April 7, 2020

Disney's Mulan (1998) Kid's Bedtime Story


I hope everyone is hanging in there, keeping busy and safe at home! Here is another bedtime story, as requested, and it's one of my favorites.

Don't miss these other classic bedtime stories:
Frozen
Beauty & the Beast
Rapunzel
Moana
The Little Mermaid
Cinderella


A long time ago, a girl named Mulan lived in a village in China with her mother and father. She tried her best to be a good daughter and bring her family honor, but she was a girl who spoke her mind and stood up for herself, in a time when her culture valued silence.

When China's enemies, the Huns, invaded the country, the Emperor's secretary came to her village to call one man from each family to join the army to protect China. Mulan's father had already served China's army and had a limp in his leg that made it painful for him to walk. Mulan rushed forward to beg the secretary to excuse her father from more service.

The secretary was offended that Mulan spoke to him and Mulan's father was embarrassed by her outburst.

But that night, Mulan decided she couldn't let her father go to war. To save him, she would pretend to be his son and go join the Army in his place. She cut her hair short and stole her father's armor. She took her family's horse, Khan, and rode off to join the Army camp.

The spirits of the family's ancestors lived in the pagoda behind their house. When they saw what Mulan had done, they called a meeting to discuss what to do. They sent Mushu, the tiny dragon messenger, to wake the Great Stone Dragon to go and stop Mulan from causing her family dishonor with her deception.

But instead of waking the Dragon, Mushu accidentally broke the statue! He hid the broken dragon from the other Ancestors and went off to take care of Mulan on his own. Mushu decided that instead of stopping Mulan and bringing her home, he would help her become a hero. That way, Mushu would be a hero as well and the other Ancestors would stop making fun of him.

When Mushu caught up with Mulan she was startled by the tiny dragon and smashed him with her shoe. But he convinced her to let him help.

Mulan's time in the Army didn't go well at first. She didn't make any friends and in fact, many of the men disliked her because she was a little bit clumsy.

Captain Shang made the company work hard. Mulan, who told everyone she was a boy named Ping, was so bad at all the drills, Captain Shang told her to leave and go home. But Mulan didn't give up. She worked even harder and eventually, she and the rest of the company made the Captain proud. And in the process, Mulan made friends with her fellow soldiers Yao, Ling and Chien-Po.

As the company traveled through the mountains to meet up with the main Army, they were attacked by the Huns. They were going to be overrun!

Mulan had an idea. Instead of shooting the last rocket at the Huns, she took it and ran toward them. Then she turned and shot the rocket up toward the mountains.

"You missed," the Hun general, Shan Yu, said with a smirk. But Mulan's rocket caused an avalanche that wiped away all of the Hun army. It nearly wiped away her own company too, but Mulan and Khan leaped off the edge of a cliff in order to rescue Captain Shang, who would have been knocked off the side of the mountain.

Mulan was wounded in the battle and the doctor discovered that she was actually a girl. The punishment for lying to an officer was death, but Captain Shang spared her life, because she had saved his.

"A life for a life. My debt is repaid," he said. Then the company left her, on their way to the Imperial City, to be honored by the Emperor for defeating the Huns.

But as Mulan made a small fire on the snowy mountain and resolved to go back home, she saw that the Huns were not defeated. They were coming back out of the snow and heading to attack the Imperial City!

Mulan, Khan and Mushu raced to the Imperial City to warn everyone. But Mulan was dressed as a woman again and no one would listen to her. Not even Captain Shang and her soldier friends.

Then, the Huns attacked. They surprised the Imperial Guards and took the Emperor prisoner inside his own palace. Mulan had an idea. She asked Yao, Ling and Chien-Po to help her rescue the Emperor and they agreed. Even Captain Shang came to help. Mulan dressed her friends up as women and used the skills they had learned together in the Army to climb the palace walls.

In their disguises, they tricked the Hun guards into letting them in, then knocked them out and tied them up. Mulan and her friends found the Emperor and helped him escape by sliding down a rope off the balcony.

To keep the Shan Yu from going after the Emperor, Mulan cut the rope, trapping herself on the balcony. Mulan scrambled up to the roof and Shan Yu followed. Mulan cleverly used her fan to take the sword from Shan Yu, then she pinned his coat to the roof.

Then Mushu, strapped to a firework, used his dragonfire to light the fuse and shot the rocket toward Shan Yu. The explosion flung Mushu down onto Mulan and Shan Yu off into the rest of the fireworks, which exploded and lit up the night sky.

The Emperor was grateful to Mulan for rescuing him and banishing the Huns from China. In front of the whole crowd of people, the Emperor bowed to Mulan, then all the rest of the people did too.

Mulan declined the Emperor's offer to stay and become his Advisor. She wanted to go home. So the Emperor gave her gifts.

"Take this," he said, removing his pendant necklace and placing it around Mulan's neck. "So all of China will know what you have done for me. And take this," he said, handing her Shan Yu's sword, " so the world will know what you have done for China."

When Mulan got home, she gave the gifts to her father, to honor him and her family. But her father pushed the gifts aside and hugged Mulan.

"The greatest gift of all," he said, "is having you for a daughter."

Just then they heard Captain Shang. He'd come to return Mulan's helmet, which actually belonged to her father, and Mulan invited him to stay.

Mulan had earned the respect of the Emperor and the whole country, but that didn't matter to her as much as keeping her family safe. And in the end, they all lived happily ever after.



March 26, 2020

Flying out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In my infinite traveling wisdom, I thought it would be just fine to book an Airbnb right by the Petronas Towers, because in theory we could pop out for food and it would be super easy. But KL is not like the rest of Malaysia. Every building is either a shopping mall or a condominium. We went out for lunch a couple times, but otherwise we had groceries for breakfast and ordered Grab Eats for dinners because it's just so easy. Besides, Mr. Go was starting to feel under the weather and coronavirus had started blowing up in a big way, so we decided not to feel too guilty about staying in and watching movies.

We found surgical masks (after a thorough search because all the pharmacies were sold out) and sought out a child-sized cloth mask for Babs to wear in the airports.


With the last ounces of our adventurous spirits, we went for a walk around a nice lake (Taman Tasik Titiwangsa) and stumbled, wholly unprepared, onto a splash pad. Beyond caring, we stripped Babs down to her shorts and let her play. We wrung her out as best we could afterward and let the tropical sun dry her the rest of the way.


At a weird contemporary art museum we went to because it was free, Mr. Go tricked Babs into sounding out a swear word that was in one of the art installations. Truly the best things in life are free.

We were stretching for things to entertain Babs at this point, tired as we were. The KLCC park was close to our apartment, but it was just so hot in the afternoon, so we found an indoor playground in one of the shopping malls. We sat for an hour drinking Starbucks and let her run off some energy.


Grab drivers were becoming very concerned about coronavirus too. One even called us to check that we weren't Chinese before coming to pick us up, and said most drivers were refusing to pick up Chinese people.


Our evening flight was a welcome struggle. We got our last Boost smoothie and had a brief stopover in Singapore. I was sure I didn't sleep at all on the 15 hour leg, but Mr. Go assured me he caught me sleeping once or twice.

We arrived in Los Angeles and went through the same kind of culture shock we experienced coming home from Spain last year. There was toilet paper in all the bathrooms, and soap! We could read the signage and menus. Barely anyone in L.A. was wearing surgical masks yet.

We'd booked separate tickets to get us from L.A. to Chicago, then a rental car to get us to Green Bay, where we'd arranged to have Grandma pick us up.

Travel went very smoothly, until the flight to Chicago. About halfway through I felt a malaise overtake me.


I closed my eyes, thinking I was simply tired and gassy from the Wolfgang Puck Express hummus box in LAX. Would that was all. Just as I thought, boy, this might end in a vomit, and stood to stumble back to the lavatories, it overtook me all at once.

I flopped back in my seat and yanked the blessed vomit bag from the seatback pocket in front of me, then proceeded to fill it nearly to the brim. Babs slept like a rock the entire time, thank God for small favors. I could barely open my eyes, could barely speak. Between the utter exhaustion and whatever else was making my body NOPE out, I was a useless lump.

Mr. Go asked the stewardess (thank you again Alaska Airlines staff for your kindness) for a blanket and some crackers for me. He wrangled Babs and our luggage to the shuttle and through the rental car office. I stopped off for a quick vomit while Mr. Go secured us our wheels, and then did once again in a McDonald's parking lot somewhere in Southern Wisconsin.

At the Super 8 in Saukville, WI, I passed out before the pizza arrived and slept for the next 13 hours. When I woke at 4 a.m. the pizza had already been eaten for breakfast several hours earlier and I was semi-coherent again.

It was a strange sensation to feel the cold air. We had only our rain jackets and it was probably the illness making my body shiver so violently, but I felt wholly unprepared for the bitter cold, while at the same time being quite thankful for getting out of the equatorial heat.

Home was blissfully comfortable. There's something about travel, especially the bare bones way we travel, that makes us so grateful when we come home to all our familiar conveniences.

We've spent the next weeks processing all we saw and did and how it changed the shape of our perspectives. We kept Babs out of school for a week, limited our contact with people and checked our temperatures regularly. We were in the clear.

Asia was so wildly different from anything we'd experienced before. The unfettered friendliness and hospitality is something we may even brave the long flight for again in the future, which is really saying something. But for now, we're enjoying the perks of our home base and looking forward to all our home-state summer adventures, like gardening (and growing some Thai chiles, holy basil and lemongrass for my kitchen), canning, camping and living the good life.




March 19, 2020

Getting the Perfect Dress at an Ultra Budget Price: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Traveling to Southeast Asia for the first time, I was floored by a dazzling array of colors, smells and sounds, the chaotic clamor of various languages and the slightly jarring realization that all the signage is in an unfamiliar alphabet. Mundane activities like walking around and grocery shopping becomes a challenge. I could spend an hour in the spice aisle and don't get me started on the selection of exotic-looking fruits.


But for as wildly different as everything seemed to be at first glance, there are activities that are universal. Familiar. In the open-air markets, my eye was drawn to the circular rolls of fabric (not rectangular bolts; some things may be familiar, but just different enough to be exciting) and the questionably-located seamstresses, with their sewing machines set up in a storage shed, or on a roadside card table with a pile of alterations work beside them.

These tucked-away seamstresses piqued my curiosity and so, while aware that the language barrier would probably prevent us from fully understanding each other, I asked one to make a dress for me.

LET ME GIVE YOU SOME CONTEXT

I was in Southeast Asia for seven weeks with my husband and 5-year-old daughter. Our trip saw us in Northern Thailand for four weeks and in Malaysia for three weeks, with not much more on our agenda than eating, sleeping and finding somewhere to wash our duffel bag of clothes. We got up close and personal with elephants, hiked to the most intricate and serene Buddhist temples and, naturally, ate a lot of incredible, flavorful, make-you-sweat noodle dishes.

With so much time on our hands for exploring, and the plethora of shops in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I convinced myself I needed a new dress more fitting for the climate and culture.

For some of us, getting a good dress isn't as easy as finding the right color or the right arrangement of elephants in the print. For those of us with broad shoulders, long torso and small chest, finding a dress that doesn't make you look like a child in adult's clothing can be a bit difficult.

In Chiang Mai, getting a suit tailored is a popular pursuit for business travelers. The fabric choices are stellar and the price is a bargain, especially compared to what it would cost to get a custom-tailored garment in the States. There is no shortage of brick-and-mortar shops along the mote that defines Chiang Mai city, with expertly crafted pieces in the window and signage in English clearly stating exactly what you'll be getting, but that was not enough of an adventure for this traveler.

MAKE A PLAN

Though some of those shops will only do suits, many showed dresses in their windows as well and would've been happy to help me. But I had seen the alleyway seamstresses tucked away further inside the city and wanted to investigate. Surely the prices would be more favorable.


While I was tempted to just go with the first seamstress I found, I wanted to be sure I was getting a reasonable price, so I shopped around a little. After the first conversation I muddled through, subsequent ones were easier.

I spoke with two seamstresses who gave me similar prices. I chose to go with Loi, who operated her sewing machine out of a storage-shed-type facility on a narrow, winding side street in the Northeast corner of Chiang Mai city. Not only did she quote me a lower price, but she was super friendly too. She also had a dress form in her shop wearing a dress in a similar style to the one I was dreaming of.

Though my husband and I were in good practice haggling with vendors selling their wares at hawker stalls, I felt I should leave that for the markets. You know just as I do that sewing well takes time and this is their livelihood. To be respectful of her time and talent, I accepted Loi's quote.

Part of my plan entailed being prepared with how much I was willing to spend. As far as I could tell, the price quoted to me depended on a few factors.

1. The style of the dress. It behooved me to know exactly what I wanted before going in, because this effects how much fabric is needed as well.

2. How much the seamstress likes you personally. It might not be fair, but that's just how things work. By the time I spoke with my seamstesses, we'd been entrenched in enough Thai culture to learn that being amenable and smiling a lot will go far in endearing us foreigners (farangs, as they call us) to the locals.

THE HARD PART: FABRIC SHOPPING

Knowing the general style of dress I wanted, Loi told me to bring her 3 meters of fabric.

1 meter = 1.09 yards

She pointed me in the direction of the Warorot market generally and Niran Fabric specifically. I had hoped for a knit fabric, but Loi told me upfront it might be difficult to find at the market, and she was right.

Here is another place I needed to be prepared. The stores are busy, there's not much room to move around between the upright rolls of fabric and even if the fabrics were labelled by hand-written signs, which most of them weren't, I wasn't able to read them anyway.


I was told instantly by five fabric stores I stopped at that there was no knit fabric. I inquired after cotton fabric and was handed a card with swatches too small to get a feel for the hand. So I resorted to touching all the bolts. I was distracted by the rolls and rolls of brightly-colored silks, shantung and the embroidered, sequined Indian fabrics and thereby spent far too long perusing.

When I found a fabric I liked, I asked an employee, "What's the fiber content of this?" He told me rayon, which is great because I love rayon, but he knew I wanted cotton, so he followed it up with, "Rayon is cotton and polyester." Which it isn't. Rayon is rayon, a man-made fiber made of reconstituted plant cellulose. He just wanted me to stop loitering in his store touching everything. I didn't appreciate that, but luckily, I knew my fiber contents and wasn't fooled. None of that mattered in the end though, because I wanted that rayon anyway.


To make things more difficult for myself, I decided I wanted my dress in two tones, so I had to search out a fabric to match my chosen rayon print. The only fabrics with even a smidge of stretch to them were 100% polyester. Not a great choice for a tropical climate, but my husband had started looking at his wrist so I decided to roll with it.

After crossing the store an embarrassing number of times, I made my decision. There isn't room for a cutting table in these cramped stores, so the employee removed a meter-long stick from inside the roll of fabric and measured against that. He held his spot with his finger and cut all the way down and that was that. It was accurate-ish.

One yard of polyester and two yards of gorgeous rayon cost me 200 Thai baht, which amounted to six whole U.S. dollars.

BE SPECIFIC

Loi seemed surprised to see us show back up at her shop with the required fabric. I think she figured we'd get lost or discouraged by the madness of the market and give up.

With her notebook, she took my measurements. Not just bust, waist, hips and shoulder to knee. She measured sleeve length, bicep circumference, shoulder/neck to neckline vee and between bust points.


The most important point of getting a garment tailored is to not be shy about describing exactly what you want and repeat yourself in different ways with mimed gestures to be sure you're understood. She wanted me to be happy with the end product and the only way to get what I wanted was to tell her in no uncertain terms, especially considering the language barrier. Direct speech is not usually my way, but I mustered the courage.

"Close-fitted, no gathers at the waist, but full at the bottom," I said, with much gesticulating. It looked like she understood, but I drew a cut diagram of the skirt to be sure. It only served to confuse her.

Pointing at what I wrongly believed were universal cut-on-fold double arrows, she inquired, "You want pockets?" This brought up a good question I hadn't intended on pursuing. As a general rule, I want pockets in everything, but after waffling I decided against it this time, only because rayon is so lightweight my cell phone would have pulled the lines of the dress out of whack.

Loi drew a sketch of the dress to ensure we were on the same page. I made some adjustments and we both nodded and smiled.

We attempted to exchange numbers, but she didn't use the international texting app WhatsApp and she wasn't able to receive my regular SMS text messages. She seemed a little nervous about not being able to keep in touch, but at no point did she mention a down payment for her work.

We pointed at the calendar to determine a date for me to return for an initial fitting. She required only three days, but we were off on other adventures and would return in one week. She bid us goodbye by teaching us how to say "good luck" in Thai (chok dee na kah), which is essentially akin to telling someone to "Have a nice day."

THE FITTING

I was mentally preparing myself to return to Loi and be disappointed. It was likely that some of my requirements had slipped through the language barrier or the fit would be all wrong. But I recognized that even if I hated the end product, the process was fun, and for the equivalent of $33 USD, including fabric, it was totally worth it.

My dress was on Loi's dress-form when we returned, and it was gorgeous. Turned out, she understood exactly the design I wanted and cut the quarter circle skirt just so.


I expected the dress to be half-finished to allow for easy adjustments, but it was complete, seams finished and everything. Which mattered little, because the dress fit me perfectly. Loi made space for me in the storage area behind a curtain in her shop to try it on. The princess seams curved to my body, the shoulders sat smartly in line, perhaps a little stiffly for my usual taste, but in the conservative Thai culture, perfectly balanced and elegant. I felt like a million bucks, or, more accurately, 800 Baht.


We bowed to her in the Thai wai way. Loi took our baht and tapped her calendar with it, to ensure good fortune in the coming year.

I wore my dress home, discreetly checking myself out in the reflections of shop windows.

THE EXPERIENCE

Not only did I go home with a dress that fits me like I was born for it, in the fabrics of my choosing, but I came home with a great story and a better understanding of Thai culture. Not just people, but people who sew, just like me. From sharing tips and knowledge, or just pictures of the projects we create, this skill we share is a common thread that unites us all over the world.

BONUS

Since mine was such a smashing success and since Loi had enough extra material, for another 600 baht, she made a matching dress for her favorite member of our trio. My mini was delighted to go through the same process as her mother and felt very important getting her measurements taken for a custom mother-daughter matching dress.



March 5, 2020

Taiping, Malaysia

With reviews like "dark, creepy hotel" my expectations for The Potato Hotel were low to say the least. Perhaps that's why I was so delighted to find not a dank, dirty Piyaporn-esque place, but friendly staff, spacious room and mostly clean sheets.

"They probably wash these," Mr. Go said of the afghans we were given for blankets. At least there were mattress pads under the sheets and we didn't feel the need to sleep on towels.

We strolled along the highway, expecting to have a hard time finding dinner due to CNY, but we found a place packed with locals and ordered food just before they closed down for the evening. Char koay teow (sometimes called Koay teow goreng), nasi goreng and Mr. Go's favorite, laksa. Then an ais kacang (shaved ice with condensed milk, tapioca jelly, beans and corn).




Mr. Go mused on the importance of bad experiences. His first ais kacang (sometimes called ABC for reasons I don't understand. Ais (ice), beans corn perhaps?) in Penang was not good, which made him appreciate a delicious one all the more. Just like our bad durian experience in Thailand made for such a contrast and such a delightful surprise with good durian in Malaysia.

Babs made friends with some nearby girls, then we watched a movie at the Potato and turned in early.

I made a plan for Taiping the next day, so we took a Grab to the Larut Makang Hawker center for some breakfast, then walked to the Taiping Lake Gardens. There was a playground for Babs and a nice breeze as we strolled along the lake and the pathways to the many islands. The 100+-year-old trees curved sideways onto the roads and cast enormous canopies. We saw a couple monitor lizards, turtles and monkeys in the trees.





It was midday and brain-meltingly hot, so we got some snacks at the shopping mall and went to see Dolittle in the air conditioning. Afterward we took a grab to Simpang to find Mr. Go a barber.

While a taciturn young Indian gentleman sliced Mr. Go's face, Babs and I strolled to scope out dinner options. We waved at the girls whom Babs had befriended the day before when they called out to her from across the street.


Then two young Malay girls stopped on their motorbike to strike up a conversation. Izzati and Afiqah shyly asked to take pictures with us, then recorded the remainder of our conversation. They scored my WhatsApp number and we have been chatting ever since.



We got a couple bags of food from roadside stands, the ubiquitous nasi lemak in cone-shaped banana leaves, some fried sweet potato slices, the nice lady threw in some potato-coconut balls for free (and it cost a total of 4 ringgit). We snagged some finger bananas along the way and called it dinner.


The next morning, we checked out of the Potato. The nice girl at the front desk confessed that she had to check the name on our reservation to be sure Mr. Go was not soccer player Harry Cane (not the first time he has gotten this comment) and asked to get pictures with us all.

Our Grab driver was convinced we would not be able to find decent breakfast around the bus station and also sagely told us we should have got on the bus at the bus stop just up the road from the Potato rather than taking a taxi all the way to the bus station. Yes, he was right on the latter, but how was I to know?

It turned out alright, because there was a street market going on right beside the bus station. We nabbed some char koay teow, potato wedges, chicken balls and kuih and it was delightful.

The bus did indeed stop to pick up passengers at the StarMart office just by the Potato. C'est la vie. There's only so much information available online to a confused traveler.

Hot Tip: When booking bus tickets, try searching for your bus company's ticketing offices rather than just the central bus station.

This bus was just as spacious and comfortable as the last StarMart Express, except better because we were 3 of the 5 people on board. It took 3.5 hours to KL and we stopped twice for the driver to have a smoke break, which suited us fine. We pottied and got meat on a stick snacks.

Once in KL we Grabbed to our Airbnb for our last 4 days of our trip in Malaysia.



February 29, 2020

Penang, Malaysia


After our delightful stay in Mae Sai, we took the GreenBus back down to Chiang Mai, where we stayed at the highly recommended Baan Lucksana, just south of Chiang Mai city. After 2 nights, all our clothes were clean again and we were ready for the next stage of our adventure, though sad to be leaving the friendliness and relatively cool weather of North Thailand.

We flew into Penang, a smallish island just off the coast of West Malaysia. Penang is the unofficial food capital of Malaysia, and we were ready to try it all.

After 4 weeks in Thailand, we were just getting the hang of ordering food, pronouncing our niceties correctly and understanding general culture. Now we were thrown back into an entirely different world. At the beginning of this venture, we stayed 1 week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and we realized how much our perspectives have changed since then. Things that seemed unsanitary and strange that first week, foggy as we were in jetlag and culture shock, now seemed totally mostly fine.

We booked our first 3 nights in Penang on the North coast of the island, at the Lost Paradise Resort. I went as cushy as I dared for this first stay back in Malaysia, to give ourselves a rest after the nightmare that was the Piyaporn. For whatever reason, I got an excellent deal on the Lost Paradise, as it was incredibly cushy. (Or maybe that was just my skewed perspective after the nightmare that was the Piyaporn).

The resort had 2 pools, sat oceanside, we had a beach view from our small patio and it was decorated all in bright, eclectic tiles and paintings. The owners run a school out of the resort grounds and also a pediatric clinic. But their restaurant timing rules were strict and also expensive, and to get food otherwise, or to go anywhere, meant a fairly long Grab ride.


Traffic in Georgetown was pretty bad, and tourism was booming. We heard lots of Nordic accents and ran into lots of tourist trap shops with Penang magnets and other souvenirs down by the docks.

For our next stay, we booked an Airbnb in a house in Batu Feringghi, off the main drag in a quiet neighborhood. To get there (only a few km up the road), we hailed the 101 Rapid Penang bus (4 ringgits, exact change only) from the bus stop sign on the side of the road, had breakfast at the Danish Biryani house (good Indian fare, but expensive in comparison to hawker stalls) and dropped our bags off at our place. Our room was not ready yet, but we met the now legendary Redho, our hosts' cousin, who was taking care of the place.

We cobbled together some groceries (fresh veg seems available only at the morning market and we were either too late or just didn't go to the right stores) and chatted some with Redho. We only then realized that he was going to be staying at the house as well, and also one other guest in another room.

Since there was a KFC on the corner (KFC is certified Halal, so it's something of a big deal in Malaysia) and we strive to do what the locals do, we had some cheesy wedges, nuggets and a good chuckle at ourselves. We don't go to KFC in the states and we had a harder time ordering there than at some of the places where the menu isn't in our language.

The next morning we went on our fishing trip. A few days prior I had booked, via Facebook messenger, Andy of Soon Coastal Fishing for 3 hours of fishing and lunch at Monkey beach.


Without knowing what to expect, we met Andy on the beach and loaded into his boat. He took us around to the northwestern side of the island, where the water was calmer and we fished with handlines off the side of the boat right off shore. I think Mr. Go was a little disappointed; he wanted to do deep sea fishing, but information was sparse when booking and Andy's deep sea fishing trip cost 700 ringgitt rather than the regular fishing trip cost of 300 ringgitt. 



It was a perfectly overcast day for fishing. We caught some puffer fish, whiting, jew fish and an octopus. Babs caught the first fish of the day, then promptly got bored of fishing and opted instead to watch the rest of us without complaint.

Monkey beach is only reachable by boat or hiking, and there were 5 or 6 other tour boats stopped there to use the BBQ facilities for lunch. Andy cooked some of the fish we caught, the octopus and some chicken he'd brought. It was fine, until the monkeys started coming in. 



We were seated a bit apart from the larger tour groups, and closest to the jungle. The monkeys edged nearer. Some tourists bought fruit to feed the monkeys and had to be told to do it away from the people eating at picnic tables. One brazen monkey crept up onto our table. I waved my hand at him to shoo him off but the vile creature slipped closer and snagged one of my satay sticks, even as I whalloped him.

He scurried up a tree and ate it right in front of me. One of the staff put a stuffy tiger on our table to scare the monkeys off and told us hilarious stories of monkeys stealing peoples' purses and rifling through them in the treetops, chewing on phones and scattering money. I was disenchanted.

That night, we were excited to have a kitchen and cook for ourselves, and Redho was so friendly we invited him to eat with us. He insisted on buying some of the ingredients so we agreed to let him buy the potatoes and onions.

I cooked some packaged noodles and threw some veggies on top. I scaled (with the back of a butter knife), Mr. Go fileted and I fried up the remainder of the fresh fish we'd caught and threw those on top too.


After dinner, Redho asked if we wanted to play cards, so we taught him how to play 31 and poker.

The next day was for wandering, eating at hawker stalls and walking on the beach. I cooked up our leftover noodles and fish for dinner and invited Redho to join again.

Redho wanted us to try appom balik, a fried crispy pancake filled with peanuts, sugar and corn. Variations can be filled with anything, much like crepes. He got us a nutella appom balik and knew we were missing cheese, so he had the people add cheese to it. It was surprisingly a good combination.

After telling Redho about our fishing trip the day before, he'd been messaging his contacts to see if one of his friends knew a fisherman who would take Mr. Go fishing. After dinner, one of those lines came back affirmative. Mr. Go sprung up from the table to pack his backpack while Redho finished his dinner leisurely.

He then started wondering if he should go too. He'd never been on a fishing boat before, so it would be an experience for him, and he worried that Mr. Go wouldn't be able to find the right pickup point or speak to the Malay fisherman. So it was decided Redho would go too.

Babs and I had a relaxing evening while Mr. Go fished, spotted squid for the fisherman to net, had some food and drinks at midnight with the other fishermen and some beers with Redho back at the house.

The next morning we said goodbye to Redho and checked out. We were moving 2 km down the street to the Rasa hotel, just across the road from the beach, so Redho promised to meet us at the night market for dinner.

Street food in Malaysia is a bit different than Thailand. There are still stalls (we learned from a Grab driver they're called hawker stalls), essentially little carts set up selling one or two different kinds of food, but in majority, a collection of them set up in a plaza with a collection of tables and chairs in the center, cafeteria-style. The plaza is given a name like Food Heaven or Miami Cafe, so it's deceiving on Google Maps. They are not 'cafes' in the usual sense, but we liked this idea very much.


You choose a table (so you know what number to tell the hawkers), or if you haven't got a table yet, just wave in the general direction you'll probably be sitting. No one had any trouble finding us, despite our best efforts we do stick out a bit. Each person in your party orders what they want from whatever different stalls, then each chef delivers your food to you when it's ready and you pay upon delivery. Drinks vendors have people walking around to take your orders or you can go up to the stall.

It was nice to go with Redho, because he went right to the Tandoori cart and I will always trust a local's recommendation more than anything else. I got some masala, we all shared some satay (Babs' new favorite thing) and it was fantastic.

We walked through the night market on our way back to the hotel and spied some Durian fruit. In Malaysia, they call it the King of Fruit and there are mini statues of it in random parks. It's a divisive fruit. Either you love it or hate it. Many hotels and buses sported 'No Durian' signs, some even coming with a fine if you're caught with the smelly fruit.


Yes, it's the smell of the fruit that can be objectionable. After our first week in KL, I realized the 'raw sewer' smell was actually probably durian. We'd tried a chunk in Thailand and were not impressed. 

But the Durian for sale at this stand in Batu Feringghi looked primo. He had 8 or 10 fruits, as it was off-season for the fruit and since we had Redho with us, we felt we could barter with a little more credibility. We got a whole fruit for 100 ringgitts, or 25 USD. Still steep by any standards, but when the man cut one side open and I picked out the fruit, it was soft and custardy and 1000x different from the first durian we'd eaten. It was really delicious.



Redho and Mr. Go broke the shell apart further and I used gloves to break pieces up for us to share.



We played on the beach the next morning, rested in the afternoon and decided to go to the Tuesday market in the other direction rather than back to the same cafe. Redho came to our hotel and we shared a Grab. The market was small and mostly fried foods that gave us indigestion, but they can't all be winners.

We were moving to an Airbnb just south of Georgetown the next day, but turns out Redho was working in Georgetown and made plans to meet us Thursday night to see the lights at Kek Lok Si temple, lit up with Chinese lanterns in honor of the lunar new year.


Our Airbnb in the Straits Garden Suites was the loveliest, coziest most comfortable Airbnb. The simple courtesy of complimentary laundry detergent suddenly seemed like extraordinary generosity and pampering. We wished we could extend, but with the new year, lodgings were tight.

We cooked breakfast at home and ventured into Georgetown again to try some banana leaf Indian curries, on Anthony Bourdain's recommendation. We stopped at a tea house to taste some tea with a flamboyant Chinese gentleman and purchased some green pu-er grown on his tea plantation in China with no chemicals or pesticides. Delightful.




Redho met us at another open-air cafeteria, where Mr. Go tried ordering fish head soup but it was really just fried strips of fish. I expected my duck meat soup to be something other than rice noodles in watery broth with some chunks of duck meat and raw liver on top. But I also ordered lok bak, pork sausage wrapped in bean curd skin and I could make a meal of those alone.

Turns out the Kek Lok Si Temple wasn't open yet, but the lights were up and it was beautiful. We walked all around it, hoping to get in but wound up sweaty and tired instead.



We picked up some banana-leaf wrapped custardy things, some pink turtle shaped things that turned out to be bread and some lotus flower and bean soup the lady called White Fungus, but Redho promised it was a sweet dessert type soup that is good for bringing down a fever. Mr. Go was feeling a sore throat so after some bottled herbal tea, we said goodbye for the final time, received magnets and stuffed animals from Redho as parting gifts and went our separate ways.

After much waffling, I booked us bus tickets to Taiping, a smaller town 1.5 hours South. 6 days seemed too long to stay in KL before our flight home, and a small town sounded nice after Georgetown.


Logistics was a bit of a problem, as CNY made lodging sparse and expensive. Instead of my preferred hotel (which appeared to have vacancy, due to my selected dates being Feb 25 rather than Jan OOPS), we wound up with the only available option: The Potato Hotel.

It was at this point I hung my head and sighed, "I just want to go home." 

More on Taiping and a Hotel Called Potato next.

January 29, 2020

Burmese Border Shopping in Mae Sai, Thailand


Mae Sai, on the border of Burma, is well-known in Thailand for its shopping markets. It's also little traveled by American tourists, so we decided to take a scenic ride on public transportation to check it out.

We've been taking Green Buses, to SEA what Alsa is to Spain. There are certainly more local inter city buses, we see them at the bus stations. Smaller, a little more rinky dink, undoubtedly cheaper. But impossible to find information about them online, and so a bit of a mystery to the overwhelmed foreigner.


Green Bus has an app you can purchase your tickets through, but there was no way to do a child discount, so we went to the bus station Terminal 3 in Chiang Mai to buy our tickets. It saved us about 100 THB for the child discount, and round-trip tickets for 3 to Mae Sai cost about 1300 THB, or about $40 USD.


There are a bunch of different Classes of bus, the cushier the more expensive of course, and the front 4 rows have more leg room for extra, too. With no idea what the different classes meant, we bought our tickets and hoped for the best.


The bus was perfectly fine, it had AC and we got a free bottle of water. On the 5-hour bus ride, we made one pit stop, but had no idea how long we were stopping for (turned out it was about 15 minutes), so we dared not step foot off the bus.


Getting into a questionable hotel room in the dark makes everything look seedier. We felt deceived that the Piyaporn Hill Paradise Hotel did not have a restaurant as advertised. Nor did any of the pictures look anything like the place we found ourselves in. There was no coffee provided. Luckily we'd learned this lesson already and had brought our own Instant Coffee. To get hot water, however, I had to tote our two provided water glasses down to the lobby to get hot water from their tank. To their credit, they did offer to give us their water boiler for our room when they believed that was what we were asking for.


The door hung crooked, letting in light, sound and probably mosquitoes. The bathroom floor was constantly wet and there was no mattress pad on the mattresses, so we slept on towels. The wifi was so bad as to be nonexistent. The first night we discussed asking for a refund, but we would surely not be able to get that message across, as no one spoke any English.


In the light of day things looked slightly better. We were a block from a huge market and close to anything we wanted. Many of the market stalls appeared to be selling the same exact imported merchandise, but some unique bargains are to be had.


Many merchants were selling Mae Sai Winery wines, so we tried a few. Most bottles were sugary water. One so syrupy we had to dump it out, the other little more than kool aid, and not even alcoholic. The one decent bottle tasted a lot like a bad port. There's a reason most Thai people stick with lao kao (rice moonshine).

We were shopping hard for a flat sheet to travel with, but found only duvet covers, fleece blankets, beach towels and sarong/skirt type rectangles of fabric with unfinished edges.


We had fun looking for things we didn't need, but we set goals for ourselves. We wanted to get Babs a necklace, and one for me too. I wanted a purse and some different leggings.

Many of the merchants were very pushy, which drove us away. Haggling is very much expected. They tell you a price, then say, "but for you, discount." Then you make an offer and they counter offer at exactly what they wanted you to pay anyway.


Mr. Go finally found a palad khik, a penis-shaped good luck token carved by monks and inscribed with blessings. A gem, to be sure.



A short walk up the road from our hotel was the Wat Tham Pha Chom temple with a small cave shrine. We were accosted for selfies with Babs at the gift shop, but the climb up to the platform with the Big Buddha on top of the hill was quiet and picturesque.




We visited again the next day to explore more of the grounds. At the other side of the monastery, the cave shrines ensconced you in such complete solitude it made the ears ring. Wholly different from the bustling Batu Caves in Malaysia, these caves were small, you had to duck into them. The almost eerily deafening silence of all sound outside the cave made you aware of the beating of your heart and rushing of your blood. We sat and breathed in front of the Buddha and re-entered the clucking air outside feeling reborn.



Each morning in Mae Sai, we ventured out for coffee and a bag of chestnuts, which are for sale from innumerable carts roasting them in hot pebbles.

Hot Tip: Look for chestnut (or other street food) vendors with prices listed on their carts, otherwise when you ask "how much?" they can be subjective.

Hot Tip #2: Look for vendors who are busy. The locals know where to get the best stuff.

We ate our chestnuts by the river, keeping an eye out for fishermen. Mr. Go had a conversation with a bait-shop owner and bought some gear but after casting into the water a few times, understood he would not be catching anything.

We did see, however, several Thai people who'd bought bags of fish from the market, releasing them back into the river.


We took our walks up to the temple, then had lunch each day at Lom Vi Seth, a quiet place with several small, sweet dogs running about. I had a spicy coconut curry one day and a spicy pad gaprao the next. It was clean, peaceful and delicious.



We would go back to our hotel room for a rest in the afternoon, then head out again around 4:30 in search of dinner.


One evening we stumbled across a local food market, which we called the Thai drive thru. The street was not closed off to motorbikes, and they zipped and weaved through people to stop by a stall, grab a bag of food and take off.

Browsing unknown foods while also not getting mowed down took all my brain power. We bought bags of food to take back home one evening and discovered the dish we saw many Thai people order, and so we copied them, was indeed gai (chicken) as advertised, but gai feet, which we discovered in Malaysia was not to our taste.

The next night we avoided that market and meandered around. We ended up eating at one of the food stalls that pop up along the main road each night around dinnertime. The pad thai was a tad spicy (the first time that has happened) but it was the cart's specialty, indeed the ONLY thing it served, and so

Babs stuffed her mouth with bean sprouts after each bite.

We changed hotels for our last night in Mae Sai, to the Maekhong Delta Boutique Hotel, which was the nicest digs we'd had recently, and should be, for a whopping $42/night. We haggled with the receptionist for a good price to do our laundry ("for you, discount").

We binge-watched season 2 of Lost in Space, ventured out for lunch and dinner, got invited to a man's wedding the next night (we had to catch a bus unfortunately, but chok dii na kah).

Our side-street dinner restaurant was a hidden gem that I can't even find on Google Maps to recommend to you, unfortunately. The Thai staff once again enlisted the help of an English-speaking patron (thanks again, Jimmy) to help us order. When he placed our order for us, he came back and told us: "The cook say you cannot order this. Too spicy for you." To which Mr. Go of course said, "try me."

I appreciated their concern, though, because they take great pride in their food and wanted us to be happy with our meal. Since the pain has now passed, I can say it was very tasty. It wasn't as spicy as papaya salad, but it was a close second.

The next morning we hoofed it back to the bus station to grab the 5-hour bus back down to the Baan Lucksana (highly recommend) in Chiang Mai for the last two nights of our stay in Thailand.





January 23, 2020

Tak, Thailand



Relishing the freedom and convenience of having our own rental car, we drove from Lampang to Tak, on our quest to get rural in Small Town, Thailand. Mr. Go found us the Ko Luang waterfall in the Mae Ping National Forest to visit.

It was a 2-hour round trip drive out of our way off Highway 1, zooming through switchbacks that were more trafficked than you might expect, and by larger vehicles than seems strictly safe.

It cost us 9 USD to enter the National Forest and there weren't many points of interest open at this time of year. But we found the waterfall and hiked some 500 meters to it.

There were a dozen Thai tourists there already and you had to (Maybe it was optional? Signs made it seem like a requirement) rent life jackets. Walking five steps down to the water took the temperature down 10 degrees cooler. I sat on the rocks in the middle of the river while Mr. Go and Babs swam.




Curious fish nibbled at my toes while my family swam over to the waterfall. We wandered down to a smaller waterfall 200 meters down, but it was too muddy to swim.




Refreshed, we hiked back up into the heat and drove the same windy road 1 hour back to the highway. We picked up a gas station dinner of vermicelli-in-a-cup on the way and hoped to arrive before dark, but the GPS pin on Airbnb was not correct, so we had to message our host and get clearer instructions.

Hot Tip: Don't trust the Airbnb GPS pin. Ask to clarify directions before you arrive, especially if you're driving yourself in a foreign country after dark.


The host greeted us warmly and had a couple of their home-grown young coconuts cut and chilled in the fridge for us. Her son, Mak, also 5, seemed very shy, but the next day, he and Babs played All Day Long. We sat on the farm and read, Kan showed us the different stuff they were growing. We were instructed to pick and eat whatever we wanted, so we tried some starfruit, picked a lime for lunch and Mak kept handing us sprigs of mint to eat.


We took a drive to the Hill Tribe market to pick up some groceries, then went to the Tesco, the big grocery store chain for some thinly sliced pork. Meals of rice and meat are so prevalent, I was constantly on the lookout for vegetables, so I fried up some bok choy in their detached kitchen and it was so relaxing to not have to go out in search of food.

Once it cooled off enough, we went for a walk in the evening. Mak was missing Babs, so his mom took him on a bike ride to find us along the road, then we all walked together.

They had to leave the next day for Bangkok, so we took their bikes out for a ride. The National Park nearby would cost too much to enter, and we'd done our waterfall already, so we just biked around.




We stopped to get a couple cold drinks and sat on the curb at the lady's little shop to drink them. When I showed the lady the picture below, she giggled behind her hand, and it added 5 years to my life.



On our wanderings through the rural neighborhood, we came across fields of cows. Not the same type of dairy or cattle in the U.S. These cows had a big hump on their back and gnarly horns. They also seemed super territorial. They watched us as we passed, pawing the ground and huffing.


There are chickens everywhere, either running around or chilling under dome-shaped woven baskets. Maybe they're for eating or maybe they're for fighting, we couldn't decide. There are dogs everywhere, too. Most are strays, but some have collars and homes they return to at night. I only had to chase one aggressive dog off and we were always very quick to pick Babs up if any dogs seemed cagey. We were told to bend down and pretend to pick up a rock, even if there were no rocks, and the dogs would scatter. We also primed Babs (who then taught Mak) to make herself big and say "NO," to any encroaching dogs.

In this neighborhood, we also stumbled upon a soup shack. We weren't hungry, per se, we'd just sat at a picnic table behind a lady's random roadside BBQ grill and had spicy sausage (Mr. Go's new favorite food-- it tastes like spicy fruit loops and I don't know why), but it had no signage and was packed with locals, so we stopped anyway.

We said the couple Thai words we knew and there was a lot of pointing and nodding. It was essentially rice noodles in broth with fish balls, bean sprouts and your choice of meat. All the tables were full, but some people waved at us and budged over so we could sit. Babs introduced herself and then had to smile between mouthfuls of food for a bunch of pictures everyone wanted to take of her.

Kan's dad, Poomchai, took care of us the last day. He gave us a bag of some weird grape-like fruit (it was longan). You have to peel the hard shell off to eat them and be careful of the pit inside, but they were super good.

One of the main attractions of a hotel/Airbnb is if they have a washing machine. We have a Scrubba bag to do our laundry in emergencies, but I tried to work it so every other stay had a machine. So we were very excited to do laundry at the farm.

Five minutes before I went to put our load in, the maid started using the washing machine. I asked her if, when her first load was finished, I could do ours before she put her next basket in. I think she believed I wanted her to do my load for me, and she totally would have with a smile and nod, but I just wanted her to show me how to use the contraption. Despite not speaking a word of the others' language, she then adopted Babs. For the rest of the afternoon they, as the Thai seem to love to do, swept fallen leaves off patios together.

Poomchai bought rice porridge (congee) for us for breakfast the next day. It came with a soft boiled egg (still in the shell) that I didn't know what to do with, so we just ate the porridge with grated ginger and spring onion.

At the end of our three night stay in Tak, we drove back to return the car in Lampang. Apparently we had driven outside of the agreement area and "damages" would be our "responsibility."

The nice car rental lady gave us a ride directly to the bus station, and we headed back up to Chiang Mai for a 1-night stopover before our next adventure, 5 hours north to the border town of Mae Sai.