To the victor go the spoils

As far back as 1999, and I think in an attempt to sound more worldly than I actually was/am, I have been chucking around the old chestnut of being in Malaysia more times than ever being in Manitoba. As of this trip, I think those numbers are 7 to 3, in Malaysia's favour. This to say that I fancy I have some familiarity with the place, and know roughly what I'll see while getting sunburned and eating mango.

On the flight here from Seoul, I proposed a wager: first one to see a monkey gets to choose the breakfast place and have their morning meal paid for by the other for a week; first one to see a hornbill gets an especially fancy dinner in the locale and time of her or his choosing. While Deanna may have expected to get out the city before peeling her eyes, I knew to be vigilant from day one. And sure enough, over our first cup of morning coffee in KL, I saw a good-sized primate ambling down the street. Deanna picked up the breakfast cheque, and every one since then.

We had been on Pulau Pangkor no more than six minutes today before being buzzed by some frisky hornbills, which I spotted first, to my own great delight. I'll spend the next few days lounging in the shade of a palm tree planning a suitably impressive meal at the loser's expense.

Local wares

A small sample of the wares available in the markets of Jalan Petaling.

The ox and lamb kept time

What to do on Christmas day when travelling? Despite the shopping mall displays, it would be possible to just ignore the holidays altogether, but it seems unsporting not to acknowledge it somehow. Lee's solution: pub food. Nothing says pa-rum-pa-pum-pum like Guinness and a meat pie served with mashed and gravy. We went to follow it up with my idea: high tea at the Carcosa Seri Negara, an old-school colonial hotel in the Lake Gardens. It seems that I should have come up with my plan at least three weeks before we arrived in KL and called ahead to make a reservation. We were turned away at the gate and told we can come a week from Wednesday, the first day a table is available for a couple of wayward travellers to have Earl Grey and scones in the garden. I did get a photo before we scampered back down the hill to have another beer at the pub.


The original plan was to post a five second video of the Petronas Towers, with me launching into my usually unassailable Connery imitation: Well, alright, I'll climb across the bloody thing, but I better get a sex scene with Zeta-Jones.

Turns out, on video my Connery sounds more like Ernest Borgnine doing David Niven doing Sean Connery. You are officially spared the indignity.

Where the druids dance

With four business days to wait for Chinese bureaucrats to put a sticker in our passports, we took to foot in KL. The Lake Gardens are a great respite from all the glass and concrete. We sat on park benches, balked at the price of admission at the Butterfly Park (six bucks, to see some moths? Really?), and happened upon this mini-Stonehenge just outside the National Planetarium. No pagans unfortunately, but there was a vending machine.


Little India

With our arrival in Big India still months away, we had a small preview yesterday. Bright colours, amazing smells, and Bollywood movie soundtracks blaring from each storefront - a veritable, and enjoyable, assault on the senses.

Home free

Two things happened in Kuala Lumpur that made us feel homeless. We had to go to the Chinese embassy to get tourist visas for our upcoming trip to Kunming. Filling out the application proved difficult because we are actually residents of nowhere. We applied for non-residency status in Canada while living in Seoul and forfeited our Alien Registration Cards in the Incheon airport, thus invalidating our Korean temporary resident claim. Currently, we have no employer and no address.

Then while shopping in the Central Market, I saw a couple of things I liked and would have bought. I realized, "home" is currently a storage facility in Calgary, a shipping company in Korea, or my own little backpack. While the blanket I liked would have looked great in our apartment in Korea, we have no apartment in Korea. Apologies for the belated realization, readers, but it suddenly struck me right there in Peter Hoe's store that we are untethered to any place in every way except the emotional.

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Our guesthouse has intermittent and sporadic wifi access. Starbucks, however, hasn't let us down yet.

Greetings of the season

While the signs of the season are around us here, you are all there. We miss you and hope you have a very Merry Christmas.


Travel reading

I realize that I'm late to this particular party (years late if were going by the release of My Life in France and the movie Julie and Julia - decades late if were going by Child's cookbooks and TV shows of the 70s and 80s), but I've just discovered the wonder who was Julia Child. Of course I was aware of her professionally, but until this weekend I didn't know anything about her personally. Now that I've read My Life in France, I'm so enamored by her. She was feisty and independent, yet warm and inviting. Mostly I'm struck by how she and Paul always made sure to "feather their nest" regardless of where they found themselves, and together created comfortable and warm homes in China, France, Germany, Norway and the US. They were such a great team, so passionate, always working together to find both of their artistic and professional callings.

My friend, Sylvia, lent me this book as we were leaving Seoul to go to the airport. She knew I'd like it as much as she did. Now I miss you even more, Sylvia!

#127 – The Case of the Missing Silk King

Shortly before we left Korea, our friend David lent us the book Jim Thompson: The Unsolved Mystery, which recounts his 1967 disappearance (Thompson's, not David's!). An American expat who lived in Thailand and founded a silk company, Thompson was well-known among expats and locals alike, and wasn’t without enemies. While travelling in Malaysia, he went to the Easter Sunday morning service at All Soul’s Church near Brinchang, then ate lunch with his traveling companions. Deciding to go for a walk while the others went back to their rooms to rest proved a fateful decision – he was never seen or heard from again.

Thompson’s disappearance is remarkable because of its complete lack of evidence. Search parties were immobilized and immediately began combing the area. No traces of him were ever found. Despite one of the most exhaustive investigations in Malaysian history that included interviews with friends, family, suspects, psychics, and witch doctors and inspired two book-length studies of the incident, there is still no adequate resolution.

The lack of evidence stops nobody from speculating, however, and theories abound.

Yesterday, Lee and I went walking on the trails of the Cameron Highlands. There has been much development over the last five decades, and tourism is clearly the dominant industry. Maps are passed out and posted everywhere. The path is well signed, though the maintenance people can’t keep up with the growth of the jungle – in many places the path was overgrown and we had to push our way through. I wouldn’t call it extremely technical or demanding, but it does feel treacherous at times. The daily rainfall makes the rocks and tree roots quite slippery and the path is often narrow with a steep drop-off. It seems entirely possible that if someone slipped and fell into the thick growth, they would go unseen by any search and rescue team.

If you’ll permit me the opportunity to add my opinion to the mix (if Thompson’s cousin in America and people who knew him for about five minutes in Thailand get to offer their two cents, why shouldn’t I?), I’d say he met his end in the jungle that day. Although he was an experienced hiker, his health wasn’t great and even the most qualified trekkers can lose their footing on a slippery path. He didn’t specify exactly where he was going, meaning the search would have had to extend in every direction, making it easy to overlook some places. There has been much speculation that his disappearance was the result of an organized attempt to eliminate him for political or financial reasons. If this were the case, somebody probably would have talked. The case generated enormous publicity, and let’s face it, people don’t have the willpower to keep secrets, especially if there’s a huge reward to come forward.

So there you have it. I’d like to thank my best friends and trusty sidekicks Bess and George, my boyfriend Ned Nickerson for always believing I can solve the crime, and my father for bailing me out whenever the situation becomes dangerous.



The Cameron Highlands is composed of three small townships, connected by a series of well-marked trails. We stayed in Tanah Rata, and one morning followed "Jungle Walk #4" to the town of Brinchang, about an hour away. Compared to the previous day's slightly harrowing uphill effort, this was very tame, allowing us to stop and smell the flowers.


The art of bread

One of the things that Lee and I most like about Malaysia is breakfast. Sitting at a sidewalk table, drinking coffee and freshly squeezed mango, pineapple or orange juice, eating roti canai and deciding exactly how to wile away our time is the perfect way to begin a day of traveling. Breakfast-wise, the Cameron Highlands does not disappoint, and watching the preparation only adds to the experience.

After a long day of locomotion yesterday, we fortified ourselves for the hike ahead.

And so it begins

Our apartment to Incheon airport: 75 kilometers, 100 minutes, Altay's car

Incheon airport to KLIA: 4608 kilometers, 367 minutes, Boeing 737-300

KLIA to KL Sentral station: 25 kilometres, 30 minutes, Express Bus

KL Sentral station to Tapah Road: 150 kilometres, 120 minutes, train

Tapah Road to Tapah to Tanah Rata: 70 kilometres, 250 minutes, very rickety bus

Tanah Rata to the top of Gunung Beremban: 5 kilometers, 90 minutes, our own steam

And so it ends

A few photos to wrap up almost 50 months in Seoul...

A monument to me.

A monument to Deanna.

Furniture we sold, books we kept.

Packing, storing, and shipping.

Miscellaneous waterfowl on Yangjaecheon.

Everything we'll need for eight months on the road.



With only three weeks left in Seoul, we are now busily wrapping up loose ends before heading off for new adventures. Doctors and dentists to see, accounts (internet, phone, bank) to close, furniture to sell, storage and shipping to arrange, and many good friends to wish well over farewell meals and drinks...

The plans are taking shape nicely. We have secured jobs for August 2011, and are excited to be getting back to both the Canadian school system and the high school classes we have been away from for half a decade. We'll be moving to an offshore BC school just outside of Shanghai, a city we've visited and loved. Moving back to China is an exciting prospect, as we feel we've only scratched the surface of all the Middle Kingdom has to offer a couple of wayward prairie folk.

But that is nine months from now, and peregrination looms. Yesterday we flexed the credit card to book flights, buy travel insurance, and reserve our spots in a month-long Mandarin course. There are many finer details to work out - some soon, some as we go - but we do know roughly where and when we'll be there. We leave Seoul for Malaysia on December 17th to trek in the highlands, rest on an island or two, and loll around Kuala Lumpur. We'll spend January stumbling through tonal phonemes and doing tai ji at a language school in Kunming, China. In February we'll take our new speaky-skills on the roads of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, and maybe even dip down into Vietnam.

March and April will have us in Nepal. We have long wondered which of the Annapurna trek or the Everest Base Camp trek might suit us best, and have time to do both if that's what we decide. At the end of April we'll take the short flight to Delhi for five weeks in India. If we think we haven't yet had our fill of yaks and yetis, we'll head north to the Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh. If we're feeling mountained-out, we'll head south to the backwaters and houseboats of Kerala.

Then it's back to the people we love...Boston for a week in June, and seven weeks of Western Canadiana...long enough to bore you all silly with tales from foreign climes. Of course, you'll likely already know the stories, as we have high hopes for frequent dispatches from afar [FOFALWO?].



This weekend saw us road-trippin' south with many of the wonderful folk we work with, plus friends made while running, for the Sangil Marathon festivities. A four hour drive on the school's bus took us to the mountains of Uiryeong County. A bit of evening-before shenanigans at a prototypical Korean love motel, bibimbap in lieu of pasta for a pre-race carbo load, and a good night's sleep found everyone ready to go on Sunday morning.

There were three different distances, all of which headed straight up the mountain to a halfway point, then turned around and came all downhill from there. Except for the last kilometer, which somehow managed to be uphill (and against the wind) both ways.

A fantastic day for the Sea Bass Running Club...Shannon, Marcia, and Kimberley dusted off the 5k race in great times. Ian, Volkan, and HyoIl found great success over 10k. Kevin, Mark, Tonya, Bokhwa, Deanna, Rebecca, and Michelle all took on the 23.6k to the 800m summit, and all came in with big and well-justified smiles on their faces. I acted as official photographer, but ended up spending much of the day being greeted and photographed by gaggles of giggling teenagers.

In great Korean race-day fashion, an odd assortment of door prizes were claimed at the end. Deanna won a 4kg bag of rice, which she promptly regifted to an elated Bokhwa, the world's smallest most prodigious rice-eating human. A quick trip to the 7-11 for beverages and snacks, pizzas delivered to the bus, and a ride back to Seoul with a lot of laughs and some great new memories wrapped up a highly enjoyable weekend.


More bits of Turkey

The blame for the little hiatus in blogging for the last few weeks falls squarely on our employers and their incessant need for us to return to work after vacation.

While we recounted our Turkey trip to OOFALWOvians in some semblance of chronological order, there is simply no way that a dozen or so posts and some photographs could fully cover all we saw and did in nine days there. To fill some of these gaps, here are a few more tidbits:

The ubiquitous ice cream cart

A mural of dead religious people inside Hagia Sophia

Medusa doing her thing in the Basilica Cistern


Last day in Istanbul

A Bosphorus cruise was scheduled for our first day in Turkey, but we were rained out. This turned out to be fortuitous, as some friendly Turks we met felt sorry for us and arranged to have the private yacht of a Turkish pop star sail us down the strait - a vast improvement over the large tourist ferry which was originally scheduled.