Hello from Penang, Malaysia

Hello from Penang, Malaysia
Penang is an island off the main peninsula, it was known as the pearl of the orient, but over time has perhaps become over developed.  We stayed in one of the tourist beach areas. I had read that the beaches weren’t that great, and they’re not if you are spoilt with Australian beaches.  To be honest, apart from some the pacific islands I’ve visited you can’t beat the beaches back home.  
We spent most of our time relaxing by the pool. We did go into Georgetown on one of the days. I really enjoyed this, as it has that great Asian feel to it, with street markets and food on every corner.  Because of the British influence it also had some colonial buildings as well.  There was a Little India section and a a Chinese market area.  Penang is known for it’s food and it didn’t disappoint.  We had one of our best meals of this trip here.
Janice and I are still getting along. Although we did have a major spat in Georgetown.  Ironically my stars in the local paper had said I needed some “me time”, and I think I did. Janice decided she couldn’t cope with me anymore, I told her I wasn’t leaving her. There was a stand-off before we decided that we (or should I say Janice decided we needed a break). We went our own way for the day, but promptly ran into each other at the next tourist site. After the 30 minute break from each other we we right to keep traveling together, so we once again set off exploring Georgetown together. We can fight, but usually the arguments don’t last for long.
Unfortunately we didn’t spend as much time as we wanted in Georgetown because Janice was suffering from the heat, and we had to return to the hotel. (The sun only has to smile at Janice and she gets heat stroke.) Coming back to the hotel wasn’t too bad though, because it made Penang the most relaxing part of our trip.  
Our afternoons would be spent by the pool, then we would have dinner, explore a bit and the place we were staying had a pool table, so we would have a couple of games of that before heading to bed.  Penang is definitely a lot more touristy than Kuching.  There are night markets in the beach resort area, that are just full of junk – cheap watches, clothes, bags, sunglasses, etc.  I’ve never seen so much junk in my life, but the tourists must buy it when there are so many stalls everywhere.  I was ready to belt the next bloke who tried to sell me boxer shorts for my husband/boyfriend.
It was also fascinating to “people watch” in Penang. There were the ocker Aussie tourists, the Aussie families, Europeans, and also lots of Muslims, with the women wearing the full covering.  These Muslim must be from a foreign country, because the Malaysian female population we’ve seen so far doesn’t completely cover-up.  
It’s  easy to forget that we are traveling around a Muslim country.  The main reminders are the arrows in the ceilings of our hotel rooms, telling us which way Mecca is, and also the no pork.  Janice is missing bacon.  She tried something looking like bacon this morning, but it ended up being chicken bacon, which she said was just wrong.  Our hotel here in Penang is near a mosque and it’s absolutely beautiful hearing the call to prayer.
Funny self reflections:
– I must be the funniest public sleeper ever. I am always falling asleep on the plane with my head on my chest. (I’m not sure if that’s worst than the little snort that Janice gives when she wakes up on the plane. Perhaps they are equally embarrassing.)
– I’ve put on back fat while on this holiday. Janice confirmed this for me when she kept poking my new back boob. (Leanne, ready for a fitness kick when I return?) Janice has had me working hard at weights over here. I was so sore from this mornings work-out that I couldn’t get my hands behind my back to undo my sports bra. Embarrassingly I had to ask Janice for assistance.
Before I travel to Asia I really must reacquaint myself with the squat. It’s been a while since I’ve had to use a squat toilet, and it’s fair to say I was a bit rusty. Picture this… We had just got off the plane from KL in Penang.  Janice and I were both busting. Usually there are western toilets with a few squat cubicles thrown in. The only choice we had this particular time, was the squat, so in we charged.  Now I was a little bit worried about getting my jeans wet, so I took precautions and rolled them up a little. Good news, my jeans stayed dry, but boy did I get the angle and aiming wrong, and instead of weeing in the hole I somehow managed to get my shoes – and they were my cute little red shoes…  How you ask?  Buggered if I know.  Janice knew something was amiss by the giggling from my cubicle. I managed to poise midstream (let’s face it, not always possible in our older age) and repositioned for another try. I still missed the bloody hole, and got the tiles and my shoes.  I tried again to reposition, by this time I was getting to hysterical giggle stage. In the end I just had to accept that my pretty red shoes were going to be covered in wee.  Sorry I know all of that’s probably too much information, but hey, what’s a series of travel emails without a toilet story?
We’ve now made our way to KL. My next update will involve political rallies and bows and arrows.
Until then, lots of love

Hello from Sarawak, Malaysia‏

Hello from Sarawak, Malaysia

As most of you know I am breaking a big rule in the sisterhood. We have two keys rules between the sisters.  We don’t live together and we don’t travel together. Leanne and I have occasionally broken the living together rule, (with what is fair to say have been mixed results)  and Janice and I are currently breaking the no traveling together rule.  It is currently day 3. The good news is we are yet to kill each other, but there is still plenty of time.

I am gate crashing Janice’s holiday to Malaysia – destination chosen for food reasons.  We are visiting Kuching on the Borneo island, and then Penang, and KL.  Janice will then go to a beach resort and I’ll come home and return to work.  We decided for a week we should be able to cope with each other. For those that don’t know, Janice is the boss of the family, so as long as you do what you’re told everything is hunky dory.

Now as you know I love a plan. I can’t start a day without having it all planned out. I don’t do free time. I like to have something organized for every hour. I won’t keep to the schedule at all, and I’m always open to other options, but at least I have a plan.  Oh my God, Janice takes this to a whole new level!  She should have been in the military. Every minute is scheduled. She is ordering me around like an army sergeant. I just follow orders, “yes sir, thank-you sir, three bags full sir”. We start the day with an alarm at 5.52am. By 0600 hours we are at the gym. At 0730 we leave the gym. Then we shower. Breakfast is at 0800 hours, at 8.35 I must leave breakfast to return the iPad to the hotel room before we depart at 0900 hours.  And so the day goes on.

There are 2 slight issues between us. The thing that is annoying me about Janice is her map reading ability. Now as you know Janice is never wrong.  But navigation is MY speciality. I’m known for it in our family. Janice strides off into the distance and takes me on these wild walks and I’m like “stop you’re going the wrong way”.  When she misses a street she pretends that it was something else she wanted to see. Today I had enough, and I stood my ground and said no this other way is the right way back to the hotel. I was so confident that I bet her $100,000 dollars that I was right and she was wrong. So we decided the only way to settle it was to spilt up and race back to the hotel. Unfortunately it was wet and I was slipping all over the place in thongs, and she was striding off into the distance in her runners.  I still maintain that my road would have also got us to the hotel, but I turned around and followed her when I heard her yell out “Alison I can see the hotel”. Annoying – the one time I question her she was bloody right!

The one thing that annoys Janice about me is perhaps something that is a fair enough complaint.  After living by myself for so long I never close the toilet door. As you can imagine Janice isn’t so fond of this habit and yells at me on a regular basis. I’m getting better at remembering…

Kuching, “Cat City” is the capital of Sarawak. Most people come to the island of Borneo to visit Orangutans. I don’t like monkeys so we’re not going near wildlife. There’s a zoo in Melbourne for that sort of thing. I was more interested in the cultural side of things, and to find out about the long houses., which is what we’ve been doing while we’ve been here.

Kuching is a very easy city to get around, and we’ve been doing a lot of walking around, which is an adventure in itself. The footpaths near the waterfront are fine, but beyond that it’s fun and games. You can’t look at the streets around you – you have to focus solely on where your feet are going. There are unexpected steps, holes, open drains etc.  Some holes are so big you could lose a person in them (maybe not me, but I’m sure small Asian kids would get swallowed up).

Yesterday with our guide Kenny, we visited a long house, and the Orchid Garden. Today we went to the Sarawak cultural village and then we had this amazing seafood lunch. (Loving the food, and currently averaging 2 ice-creams a day.) This afternoon we visited the museum, where we made some very special friends. Everyone is so friendly and wants to talk to you. The guy who made friends with Janice at the museum talked politics and religion.  The guy who made friends with me talked fruit and taxidermistry. He was a third generation taxidermist at the museum. But alas he had no children to pass on the tradition.  Not sure what we wanted me to do about that…

Oh and I must tell you about the special scales in the bathroom. I jumped on them when I arrived and I was like “wow – check this out Janice – I’ve lost 10kg over Christmas”. Obviously not true, from the number of clothes that don’t fit, but hey it gave me hope that I was perhaps moving in the right direction. Janice burst my bubble when she pointed out that if you leaned back on the scales you lost 20kg, if you stood in the middle you only lost 10kg, but if you leaned forward you were the correct weight. Bugger… I consoled myself with an ice-cream.

Loving everything so far (except maybe the super cold air con). Everyone we meet talks heat wave and bush fires to us. The Australian fires and heat wave have been on the news quite a bit here. Although I laughed the other day when I saw the newspaper, with a heading of Sydney and then news of the Tasmanian fires (this was before there were any fires in NSW).

Off to Penang tomorrow.

At the airport‏


I’ve made it to the airport. There’s been some big thunder storms, and the plane has been delayed by 2 hours. Both my flights are Qantas – I think they should hold the other plane, so hopefully I’ll make my connecting flight.

Yesterday I had my most beautiful day in New York to date.  I went to the Met again. Despite spending several hours there, I still didn’t get around the whole collection.  Overall I thought the Met had a great 19th and 20th century collection.  The contemporary collection was great as well.

I was disappointed with the European collection. I think the Frick has better pieces, and nothing can beat the hermitage for this.  Actually the gallery I visited in Berlin last year was pretty good as well. For shear gander the Hermitage is still the best I’ve seen.

Dad, you would have loved the musical instruments collection. They had old instruments I haven’t heard off, but which I’m sure you know all about thanks to classic fm.

It was a glorious afternoon. Not a thunderstorm in sight, so I finally got to wander around central park.  It was beautiful with sunlight flickering through the trees and dancing on the water.  There were heaps of activities from people bike riding and running, playing volleyball, listening to music, sun baking in their bikinis, rowing on the lake, kids playing with model boats, to adults ballroom dancing in the park.  It was a magical afternoon.


I didn’t leave the park until 8.30. I wandered down to Times Square, where I bought Emma her runners, and then I just people watched until I couldn’t handle the throng of bodies any more. Oh and I went to the m&m store. They have a machine that tells you what colour m&m you are. They have all these unusual colours like pastel. They have m&m t-shirts, pjs, cups, lolly dispensers, etc. They even had a Janice mug. (Didn’t buy it though.)


Some more thoughts:

– NY city council has this summer streets programme. They close one of the main roads on Saturday morning except for bikes, runners, walkers, roller bladers etc. I was walking to the subway and I saw what I thought was a fun run. When I realized what it was I felt guilty, so I gave up on the train and joined in with the walkers.

– The French have driven me insane!  The only good thing is that don’t seem to go to the cultural sights. They just do the shops and the real touristy stuff.  Man they are annoying!  Jenelle said it’s their school holidays and they always come over this time of year. They drive her crazy in the shops as well. I punched one of them today. A sure sign I’m over them.

– Tell Eugine the US churches haven’t changed all the words to the mass.

– I’m not sure what’s so exciting about pretzels. They’re too salty.

– But I had the best waffle I’ve ever had.  The only problem was it gave me indigestion for the rest of the day.

I think that’s it from me.  See you soon.

Lots of love

Evacuated from the UN‏

Oh my God I just got caught in another thunder storm. It was the craziest one yet. The lightening was so loud. I thought the earth was going to crack open.

I think the best way to describe the weather is that it’s like Darwin in the wet season.

I had just finished a 3 hour cruise around the island. At the start it was hot and sunny and we were putting sunscreen on, but it started to cloud over towards the end, and we could see lightening in the distance. The storm hit just as we pulled into the pier.

The cruise itself was really good. You got to see another side of New York.

I also tried to do a tour of the UN today. I got through all the security and was second in the line to purchase a tour ticket when the fire alarms went off and everyone was evacuated from the building. It was chaos. Stood around for a while to see if they would let us back in, but there was lots of security around.  So I gave up on that and went and saw Grand Central station and bought an ice-cream instead.

Yesterday I just wandered around Chelsea.  I went down to Chelsea Piers where they have a driving range. You basically hit the balls towards the water, but there’s all this netting around to stop them going into the water. The range is four levels high. It’s amazing how people adapt to no space.

I caught up with Jenelle (a librarian from Australia who is Nadine’s best friend) and her husband Bill for dinner yesterday. It was great seeing them both. Last time I caught up with them was at their engagement party last year.

Some more comments about New York:

– Did you know that they have no unemployment benefits like our dole? Instead they have temp. unemployment insurance. In New York this lasts for 86 weeks (it has just increased), after that you get nothing. Which would be okay if you didn’t have the long term unemployment issue that’s here in the US.

– And good news New York does have a recycling program. Paper goes in clear garbage bags, plastic in blue garbage bags and rubbish in black garbage bags. There’s not a lot of recycling bags.

– Amazed at how well people treat those begging. There’s not a lot of it,to be honest I would see more in Melbourne. But in Australia everyone ducks their head and says “sorry mate”. Here everyone gives money. Big money too. Not just $1 bills.

– Also amazed at how polite people are on public transport. They are much more likely to give their seats up.

– Dad have you heard about air rights in New York? They don’t only sell land they also sell air rights.

– And Leanne did you find all the wooden water tanks on top of the building amusing?

That’s it from me.  I think it will be fine tomorrow so I’m going to check out Central Park.

Lots of love

“I cannot live without books” – Thomas Jefferson‏

It’s 11am here and I can’t get out of bed. I’m so tired. My legs are aching and I have blisters on the soles of my feet from walking so much yesterday.

Yesterday I went on a day trip to Washington DC.  I set my alarm for 4.30, got up and called Mary for her birthday, then I got ready to leave. I ended up deciding to catch the 7am super fast  train instead of the 6am slow train.  I did however catch the slow train home. The slow train is like your vline train – but first class. The fast train is designed for business people with free wifi. There’s about 1 hour difference in how long they take to make the trip.

The tickets were rather expensive. The return trip cost me $366. I think that’s because I booked them so late.  But who knows when I’ll be back here, and seeing the White House would be cool. Besides $300 is probably good value when you’re going through 5 states of America to get to your destination.

I got to Washington DC at 9.47am. It was hot and I was dressed inappropriately. I had jeans and a shirt on, so the first thing I did was roll up my jeans to make them 3/4 length.

First stop was Congress.

On my gosh this is a beautiful building.  It was definitely the highlight of the day.  It’s so elegant and imposing. I did a tour of this before going to the Library of Congress and doing a tour of that.

Then I walked down to the White House and visited the House White info centre. You can do a tour of the White House, but you have to organize it 6 months in advance.

Then it was onto the Washington monument, and then I walked down to the Lincoln Memorial. Unfortunately the Reflecting Pool is being rebuilt, so it was a bit of a construction site.  From here you can see Congress which is down the other end of the Mall – about a 50-60 min walk away.

You could have easily spent another day there, as there are heaps of museums, but I’m happy with what I got done.  Seeing Congress, the Library of Congress (the biggest library in the world) and the White House were definite highlights of this trip.

Some more thought on my day:

– Really loved Washington.  I think I could live there over New York. There’s lots of green spaces, and parks. I didn’t realize how much I was missing that in NY.

– Was the design of Canberra based on Washington? They are incredibly similar.

– Less annoying French tourists. Actually less tourists altogether than NY.

– Americans are incredibly friendly. Met some great people on the train. Talked politics and the economy all the way from Washington to Phillidephia.

– They seem to have a lot of conductors on the trains. Another example of the way that there services are inefficient, but how they provide greater service to customers. EG if you’re asleep they come by and tell you it’s your stop.

I think it will be a quiet day today. I’m meeting Jenelle (a librarian from Australia) at 4.30 today. I  might wander around the shops, but I don’t think I have the energy for anything else.

Lots of love

An affair to remember…

Hair last night was amazing. One of the most enjoyable musicals I’ve been to in ages. Probably because I knew all the songs thanks to Janice.  The poor French family beside me didn’t seem to get it. A lot of the dialog seemed the be lost in translation for them.   Although the two girls had giggling attacks during the nudity scene. I’m guessing they didn’t know about that?  At the end of the show everyone got up on the stage singing and dancing.

So today I had a bit of a sleep in. Didn’t wake up until 9am. Bad day to sleep in, because I’m visiting the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art). It’s amazing – like the American version of the Hermitage.  I got here at 12pm, and so far in 3 hours all I’ve managed to see is the 19th and early 20th century collection of paintings and sculpture. I think I’m going to need to come back again…

The hermitage is definitely grander, but this is the closest I’ve come to it.
Some of my favorites today include:
Edgar Degas – The little fourteen year old dancer (sculpture)
Renoir – In the meadows
Pierre-Auguste Cot – Springtime and The Storm
van Gogh – Wheat fields with cypresses
Monet – View of Vietevil
Redon – his still life flowers – simple buy joyous.

Okay funny thing just happened. I’m in one of the cafe’s here having a late lunch, and one of the waiters came up asking me about the cat and the dog?  I finally worked out he was talking about the “Talking Tom” app. He asked to see it so he can show the other waiters….

Some other notes / reflections on New York:

– There is no sense of style here – nothing, zip, zero. It’s even worse than Sydney! I feel overdressed in jeans and a nice t-shirt. And I don’t think anyone wears make-up. The best way to sum up NY style is sporty/daggy.

– On every corner there are food vans.  I haven’t eaten anything from them yet, but they sell everything from pretzels, to hot dogs, to kebabs, to whatever. Some of it smells really nice, but I wonder how they make enough money to survive.

– There are also all of these fresh fruit and veggie stalls. Many of these seem to be an initiative of the New York city council.

– There are also heaps of WholeFood supermarkets. Did you go to these Leanne?  They seem to be upmarket supermarkets specializing in organic food. I often go there to buy a salad or some fruit instead of going out for dinner. A lot of people obviously do that, as they have plastic forks and spoons at the door.

– There are no fat people in Mahatten. You always hear about the obesity rates in the US, but there’s no sign of that here. Why?  Well it goes to show you how bad cars are for our health. No one has cars in Mahatten.  You either catch the subway or you walk.  Even when you catch the train there is a fair bit of walking required to get around the city.

Okay, back to my day. I didn’t get through a lot more of the Met before it closed at 5.30. I probably managed to see half of the European art section including the Frans Hals’ “The Fisher Girl” which was another favourite. There’s so much more to see. I’m going to need to go back.

It was a glorious evening, and after such a beautiful day I decided I would end it in style by visiting the Empire State Building. I managed to get there to see it before the sun went down, and then at sunset and as the lights of the city came on. It was beautiful. But my god I never want to see a French tourist again!!! All up visiting the Empire State Building took me 3 hours. You can’t do anything quickly in this town!

Hope all’s well at home. I’m a bit worried I haven’t had an email for a day or two.

Lots of Love



So today’s Monday. My plan was to go to the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art), but like many museums that is closed on Mondays, so instead I went to the American museum of national history.  It was free with the city pass tickets I had purchased. Can’t say I was a real fan. It was overrun by bloody kids.  The dinosaur section was done well, but otherwise it kind of reminded me of an old fashioned style of museum. Like what the Melbourne museum was when we were kids. I think they are doing it up, but boy do they need to. They had a good collection. I’ve never seen so many stuffed animals in my life, but they really need to liven up the exhibitions.

Got lost on the trains again today. I got on express trains twice, heading for the Bronx and Queens.

Today’s ice flavour: Oreo Overload
Sweet vanilla ice-cream, chocolate fudge and crushed Oreo biscuits. Good, but still doesn’t beat the cake mix one.

Just after I bought this there was a massive storm, and I was standing under cover watching the rain bucket down as I ate my ice-cream.  I had to buy a new umbrella today after my Melbourne one died. The new one is keeping my head dry, but you seriously need plastic pants or gumboots to keep your jeans dry. The bottom of mine are wet again.  Good news though the sun is shinning now.

I’m currently just filling in time.  I bought a ticket to Hair tonight.

I’m sitting in the tourist info centre that has free Wifi.  That’s it from me for now. I might go and check out the m&m store. The have a whole shop dedicated to m&ms.

Lots of love

PS I woke up dreaming about US politics this morning. The tv channels are full of the Iowa Strawpoll results, which the tea party chick won.  They don’t think she’s a serious contender though for the Republican nomination because they don’t think she can compromise.