Tag Archive | Travel

Confessions of a lousy business traveller

We check our watches, lean back against the cushions and take a moment to gather our thoughts, watching from the window the milling crowds in the mall going about their weeknight shopping.

The restaurant has stylishly tall ceilings, ornate chandeliers with warm lighting and a pretty water feature bubbling alongside the plush fabric of  banquette seats and formally set tables with starched black napkins.

The waiter bustles about filling our glasses and arranging the appropriate cutlery for our orders in a manner so elaborate, it’s amusing to watch.
He places a platter of crispy pappadum topped with chopped onions, tomatoes and spices in the centre of the table and invites us to begin our meal.

It’s all wonderful.
But really, I’m pretty sure neither of us wants to be here.

It is 9.45pm, fourteen hours since we all first started out the work day, and the effects of being cooped up in back-to-back meetings is showing its toll on all our faces.

My female colleagues and I, we chat a little about how dinner times are different between Singapore and India and the United States – dinner is typically at around nine in India…this is bedtime to the Singaporeans and Americans.

Halfway through the conversation, one seated beside me, excuses herself to answer her mobile phone.
She speaks animatedly, and even though I don’t know the language, it’s not too difficult to make out that she’s assuring her little girl that she’ll be home real soon.

We turn our attention back to the business dinner conversation at hand.
But not before a candid, spontaneous exchange of smiles and words – from one working mom to another – about how culture and language and location may be different, but challenges are similar wherever one is, in the world.

Similar challenges of planning logistics and arrangements when having to leave home earlier in the morning to attend first-thing-in-the-morning meetings.
Similar phone conversations, in any language, of why we can’t be home yet and yes, we’ll be home soon as we can.
Similar polite excuses to leave the dinner earlier to attend to the needs of home and husband’s dinner and children’s bedtimes.

And in the pensive car ride back to the hotel, I think about these similarities.

About how I can’t be home yet and how badly I’m wanting to be, as soon as I can.

And the differences.

Hers, a twenty-minute commute. Mine, a thirty-three hour countdown and two thousand five hundred miles in between now and then.

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Field Trip: Penang Butterfly Farm

I’m glad we made ourselves get out of our hotel room at 4pm to make the drive down to Teluk Bahang. We’d just checked in to our rooms after a rather sleepy and long car journey out from Taiping, and it was truly tempting to just sprawl on the bed and veg out.

Finding out that the Butterfly Farm closed at 6pm, we thought the timing was just about right, as we could leave directly from there to go for a hawker fare dinner on the beach afterward. 😛

It was a magical experience. DH and DD held butterflies on their palms for the first time.  This is a New Lacewing on DD’s hand.

I have to admit I was too chicken to try. Still am, haha.

Penang tourist attractions maintain a differentiated pricing structure, tourists pay a higher price whereas MYKAD and MYKID holders (Malaysian citizens) pay a subsidised price. So Malaysian citizens, do not forget to bring your MYKAD as there is a MYR 9 difference which can buy you a plate of char kuey teow, a bowl of curry mee and cendol for dessert with some change left over!

We arrived just in time to join a free nature guided tour which turned out to be an immensely educational experience. I wished I had brought a notebook but it was probably not possible to take any notes with DS clinging onto me, so I tried my best to remember snippets from the commentary. Tough…

The Penang Butterfly Farm was established in the 1980s, it is a live butterfly and insect sanctuary. Behind the scenes of the public exhibition, is a research and development facility dedicated to breeding, conservation and nature awareness of butterflies and insects, with particular focus on the conservation of the endangered Yellow Birdwing (Troides Helena).

On our tour, we were shown the four stages of a butterfly life cycle, from egg

to larva (this is a New Lacewing caterpillar)

to pupa (chrysalis)

and imago (adult butterfly, I forgot to ask which species this is).

Butterflies come from the order of Lepidoptera, which means “scaly wings” in Greek. Enlarged on a microscope, these are the scales on the wings of a butterfly, it is like what our human skin is to us.

This is the image of the scales under a microscope.

Image Credits: Penang Butterfly Farm

These scales can detach from the wings easily upon touching them, so we were told to not catch or hold a butterfly by its wings as the powdery substance left on our fingers are actually the scales fallen off, which can negatively impact the butterfly’s ability to fly.

Our guide also showed us an example of mating butterflies in the garden. The male attaches itself to the female and the two may remain coupled between an hour to overnight, depending on the species.

When a mating couple flies, it is usually the female who bears the weight of the two, and does most of the work in the flying. Hmm, lazy males!

The farm also houses insects in both its greenhouse as well as an indoor education centre. Outdoors, we were shown a Mexican Redknee Tarantula

and a black scorpion.

And some 30 cm long millipedes that the Nature Specialist explained were really harmless and misunderstood.

Misunderstood I can understand, I won’t harm them but I’m still running far far away if I encounter any of these foot-long crawlies….brrr…I have shivers down my spine just writing about it…

Can you spot the stick insect amidst the twigs?

Here it is, on my mum’s hand!

In its indoor education centre, visitors can view a huge collection of spiders, beetles, bugs and frogs. Kept safely behind glass walls, phew!

At the end of our tour, we were each given a little container with a butterfly inside that had just freshly emerged from the pupa and was ready to fly. You can open the container and release the butterfly into the air.

DD was so excited about this, she was given a second container.  That was fun! 🙂

For the educational and informative value, I really would like to go back again, but I have to say the entrance fee is a rather prohibitive factor.

Whilst I acknowledge that I really shouldn’t complain given the favourable exchange rate between the SGD and MYR, hopefully in future, the farm could find a way to either provide more value in the experience, or lower the pricing a little more.

Getting there:

Penang Butterfly Farm
No. 830, Jalan Teluk Bahang, 11050 Penang, Malaysia.
Tel: 60-4-8851253
Web: http://www.butterfly-insect.com
Email: info@butterfly-insect.com

Field Trip: Taiping Zoo

We spent a few days holidaying in Malaysia during the December school holidays, and took a driving trip up to Taiping and Penang.

When my aunt, who lives in Taiping, heard that we intended to visit the Taiping Zoo, she laughed and said, if our kids had already visited the Singapore Zoo, what could a small town zoo offer in terms of excitement and new discovery for our kids?

Well, quite a lot, as we soon found out to our delight! 🙂

The first zoo to have been established in Malaysia, the Taiping Zoo is more of an unpolished gem – a little rough around the edges but with some really invaluable discoveries – as compared to the more tourism savvy Singapore Zoo which is very geared towards edutainment, shows and structured activities.

Admission is priced at MYR 12 per adult, MYR 8 per child (3–12 years) and the day zoo is open from 8:30am to 6pm.  From 8pm to 11pm, it runs a Night Safari which is priced slightly more expensively.

Commentaries and label descriptions are largely dispensed in local Bahasa Malaysia, which means either you understand it fully or you don’t understand it at all. Language challenge opportunity to figure out why a hippo is called badak air and a rhino, badak sumbu?

There were no maps available at the ticketing counter, so we had to find our own way around the place. In this respect, it is useful to take advantage of the free tram ride and go for it first thing, to gain your bearings.

With a compressed schedule, we didn’t quite get to walk the entire length and breadth as we would have liked so we personally found the tram ride that much useful in at least getting a brief overview of the different sights the zoo has to offer.

When we got off the tram, we stopped by the usual favourites of the children, like the giraffes and zebras, elephants, tigers and lions.

The animals appeared a lot livelier in Taiping than Singapore, and we think this could be because of the lack of shows in the former. There aren’t any scheduled shows, so there are no droves of people rushing for seats and spaces. I personally like this because each can then people or animal-watch at leisure and go about their own business. Sometimes I tend to feel that because we’ve paid an expensive admission into the Singapore Zoo, we need to make the most value of the price and see every show there is – which becomes a rather stressful undertaking!

We saw a tiny baby elephant nursing from its mother, surrounded by all the other elephants in the herd, who took turns to assure and protect the little one between their strong legs.

Majestic Malayan tigers enjoying a morning swim.

 

Cute but fierce little lion cubs gambolling around while their father and mother relaxed lazily in the shade in a neighbouring enclosure.

And an interesting “one-sided argument” between an antagonized ostrich and a nonchalant giraffe.

It was all very relaxed and pleasant, and a very enriching experience for the kids who had not to date, seen baby lions or baby elephants in the Singapore Zoo.

The zoo is located within the Taiping Lake Gardens, the gardens themselves valued for its deep historical worth as the first public gardens established during British rule in Malaysia.

There is always a constant hum of activity in the Lake Gardens with joggers and walkers traversing its paths at dawn, and cars passing through the busy roundabout throughout the night.

These over-hundred-year-old golden rain trees with their branches bent down towards the water are the most frequently photographed and admired residents of the garden.

Preschooler Craft: Fun with clay

DS’s clay carrots and potatoes, made at Peel Pottery in Mandurah.

Kids Say: Our scribbles

Now that we’re done with our scribbles, I thought you might like to see the kids’ scribbles on their view of our holiday. 🙂

Kailis at Fremantle

Fremantle Markets

Hillary’s Boat Harbour and Sorrento Quay

Sunflowers Animal Farm

Thrombolites at Lake Clifton

 Whiteman Park

Scribbles from our Travels: Day 11 – Perth – Singapore

Today is our last day in Australia and we have to be at the airport by 1:30pm. We decide to just drive around Swan Valley and see where the wind takes us.

DH sees the name Bell’s Rapids on the map and suggests we check it out.

Not very rapid, haha, but that’s to be expected in winter I guess. 🙂  [Bells Rapids is a popular viewing location for the annual Avon Descent whitewater race.]

While we’re there, DH and I spot a tiny hole in the soil where ants are crawling out. It’s fascinating, and we stand there for some time, observing them. They’re quite big in size… I imagine a bite from one of these fellows would probably sting something fierce.

So engrossed were we, little did we realise that the whole slope was swarming with busy ants until we suddenly turned around and saw that the slope appeared to be “moving”. Yeeeks! It was like a scene from a B-movie!

Ok lah, not really. They were big but they weren’t human-sized ants or anything of the sort. But it still gave me the heebie jeebies for a while.

Luckily the kids are safely in the car!

We also drive around Brigadoon, a township in the Swan Valley area.

It’s horse country, we drive past one estate after another, each with multiple paddocks and a horse or two in each of the paddocks. Out of curiosity, we also pop into the Equestrian Club. There was a girl dressed in full riding gear, trotting a horse around the field.  The kids wanted to watch for awhile, so we stayed for about 5 minutes before driving off.

We’ve been really fortunate to get a close-up view of horses this trip. 

That aside, in general, I think it’s been a very enriching experience for both ourselves and the kids – we’ve seen and learnt so much in the space of the 11 days spent in Western Australia.  

*****

When we reached the airport, we found out that DH’s clay bowl was broken. It was a shame, because we’d tried our best to carry the two bowls carefully all the way since Mandurah to here. 😦

I was disconsolate. But DH philosophically reminded me, that maybe that was just one more thing to learn from the pottery.

Unfired clay isn’t all that durable until it’s passed through the intense firing in the kiln. In a similar fashion, for us to be able to withstand the pressures of the world, “hard-pressed on every side but not crushed”, we, the clay, need to also be subject to the purifying fire of God’s kiln.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7-9.

(In case you get the wrong impression that I am calm and spiritual all the time, let me say, I am not. 

I was really upset. I sat brooding for twenty minutes on a corner bench in the airport, with a face like thunder. In that space of time:-

I took out the broken pieces of the pottery to see if there was any chance they could be glued back together. Not a hope.

I wished so hard that it was mine that had been broken, and not DH’s because his was the nicer of the two.  Wishing and hoping and hoping and wishing – to what end?

I analysed to death every minute and every second, from the point I’d packed the bowls to loading the luggage in the car to see if I could pinpoint when it could have cracked. But I guess that’s why it’s called analysis paralysis…it doesn’t move a single nanosecond of time backward to reverse what has been done.

I tried to rationalise what DH said, to console myself – that without firing, the clay was still fairly weak and there’d be traces of powder in our palms every time we handled the bowls. And so, if the bowl hadn’t broken in the car, it may have broken in the airport, or in the overhead luggage compartment, or in the airport when we reached Singapore, or…

In short, it took me a looong while to get over it. So, I didn’t actually look this verse up and consider the life application, until some time after we’d reached home from the trip.) 

*****

We touched down in Singapore at 9:05pm. I always love coming back. Changi Airport has got to be the most efficient and friendliest airport in the world.
I don’t know of any other airport in the world where one can clear immigration and customs, pick up luggage from the belt, AND be in the car on the highway back home within 30 minutes.

It has been a fun and adventurous trip but it feels good…real good, to be home.  🙂

Scribbles from our Travels: Day 10 – Whiteman Park – Swan Valley

We’re in Whiteman Park – I forgot to take pictures of the playground structures but they have a couple of well-designed ones that provide a good challenge to children to develop self-confidence and train up their problem-solving skills to navigate their way up the structures.

If you need to make a choice between the train or tram rides at Whiteman Park, I’d recommend the tram.

Why?

Because on the tram ride, the driver and conductor are more easily accessible to chat with the passengers, tell us about how the tram works and answer any questions we have about the trams in general. On the train, it’s just us and the other passengers, and the driver is in the engine up front so there is less opportunity to learn something about the train.

Shane, the conductor of the tram, gives us a really informative discourse on trams.  It was a highly interesting conversation, and below are the snippets I managed to recall:-

  • The Whiteman Park tram is a Melbourne W2 electric tram model.  The proceeds from ticket and souvenir sales on this tram are directed towards the cost of restoration of a couple of Perth and Fremantle tram models by the Perth Electric Tramway Society.
  • The tram has a rope that runs across the ceiling.  This rope is used to communicate messages to the driver.  One pull signifies that passengers are boarding.  Two pulls means “ready to move”.  Three pulls is used to alert the driver that there is an emergency. Four pulls means that the tram is full and should not stop for any more passengers.
  • Melbourne, Perth and Fremantle trams are all designed differently.
  • Melbourne trams have two saloons, one at each end and the middle is a drop floor which has a back-to-back seating arrangement.  
  • Perth and Fremantle trams are built with saloons throughout and no drop floor. 
  • On Perth trams, the seats face one way only, so if the tram reaches the end of the line, then passengers are seated in the opposite facing, when the tram travels back along the line.
  • Fremantle trams have seats that can face either way, so when the tram reaches the last station, it is the duty of the conductor to run through the carriage and flip the seats to face the direction the tram will be travelling next.  However, the seats are not in perfect alignment, so he has to be careful not to get his fingers caught when running down the carriage. 
  • Perth and Fremantle trams use manual brakes with three separate settings – engage, hold and release.  This means that the driver has to go through these three steps each time, whereas Melbourne trams are built with a single braking mechanism, which allows for smoother driving.
  • The “steering wheel” in a tram is not meant to steer the tram – it is actually the brakes which are applied only in an emergency.  The tram is operated by a lever, which works somewhat like a dimmer switch, i.e. if you turn it more towards the right, the tram will go faster.

 

We almost didn’t take the tram. Sitting at lunch, we wondered, “How different is the tram from the train ride anyway? They both run on rails.  And although it’s a different circuit (round the park), the bushland scenery is pretty similar.”  

But. As we walked past it, on our way to the car park, DS asks if he can ride on it. 

Hmm. The ride isn’t expensive and he gets on for free.  We ask the conductor when the tram leaves next. And he says, “In about half a minute, as soon as the driver gets back.”  And the rest, as they say, is history. 🙂  

I’m really glad we rode the tram. 🙂

*****     

On our way back from Whiteman Park, we stop at Coles to get some fish to cook for dinner. But it turns out that the whole Bassendean Shopping Centre is closed on Sundays! Alamak…how?

Then DH spots this Fish n Treats corner store. So we walk in, hoping to buy some cooked fish instead.

The proprietor recognises our accents and identifies us to be from Singapore. We strike up a conversation and he tells us that his family migrated from Singapore years back, and now they hold Australian citizenship.

As we leave, he hands us the wrapped package containing the cobbler and barramundi fillets that we’ve ordered, and tells us that he’s included some complimentary chips as well. That was really nice of him.  😀

We pop by home and leave the wrapped package on the dining table – dinner settled, yippee!

*****

The kids awake from their nap in the car, so we decide to visit Cape Lavender for some scones and tea.

The scones are good. The jam is also infused with lavender, so that makes for a twist on the usual strawberry flavour.

We also order a tier tray to share.

The only thing that spoils the experience is the service quality (or lack thereof). The lady attending the tables never smiles.

And she wasn’t very friendly or forthcoming in locating a table for us. We found ourselves a table for two and squashed our party of five around it, because she said we weren’t allowed to pull extra chairs up to our table. (???).  Anyway, shortly afterward, a larger group vacates their table so we shift to the other table.

I thought lavender is supposed to make one feel relaxed and happy, not morose and taciturn. Maybe it’s just an off day for her, but if that were the case, I guess for today she wasn’t a very effective poster girl to the tourist crowd for the products they’re selling… *shrug*

There are some paddocks nearby with horses in them. After tea, we stroll around and one of the horses comes right up to the fence and allows us to pat him.

He looks a little like the horse in the watercolour illustrations from a book in our collection – “Horse”, written by Malachy Doyle and illustrated by Angelo Rinaldi.

Can you imagine the joy on our little horse enthusiast’s face? 😀