A Travellerspoint blog

The Bridge

being a tourist with megan

sunny

My friend Megan, a fellow lifeguard from SF State who graduated last May, arrived in Sydney last Friday to spend a month visiting me in Australia. (She actually arrived in Australia while I was in Malaysia, but she took a connecting flight to Wellington, New Zealand to visit her friend Natalie.)

Deciding to be super touristy, we took the train to Milsons' Point in North Sydney and took in the gorgeous view of the harbor and Luna Park before climbing to a platform that led across...the Harbour Bridge! The view was incredible as we walked across the water, ships cutting across the glassy surface towards Circular Quay and out towards the northern beaches. At the end of the bridge, we paid $9.50 to climb 200 steps up in one of the pylons for an ever more spectacular view, which can only be described with photos:

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The afternoon ended with a couple pints at the Australian Heritage Hotel in The Rocks before I had to catch a train back to UTS for a six o'clock class.

Meg's in town until mid-May, so the next few weeks should be fun!

Posted by Alykat 23:52 Archived in Australia Tagged foot Comments (0)

The Last Day

wrapping up the trip

sunny 26 °C

Today was full of activities:

- A wet market, similar to an indoor farmers market-type setup where we could watch the locals grocery shop...and see the butchers chop up poultry right in front of us. Sick.

- A homestay house, where we got the chance to walk through a small Malaysian house and take in the big front sitting area, tiny kitchen, and harbour-like river running through the backyard. The family even prepared a few traditional dishes for us to enjoy before boarding the bus.

- A butterfly farm. It was a little frightening to have these spotted butterflies batting their wings in my face, but the habitat was nice and I got some great photos.

- A fruit farm, which required an uphill trek through groves of trees in the HOT weather. Not the most pleasant, but we were able to pick and taste waterapples (very sour) and chili cherries (funky concept, but they're pretty tasty) before reaching to top, where a fruit buffet had been set up. We filled our plates with fresh starfruit, jackfruit, coconut, papaya, mango, durian (which smells awful, kind of putting off the taste), pineapple and watermelon, but the best part was when we were each handed a drink voucher for a free glass of freshly made fruit juice. I had a delicious mango-pineapple concoction, but my friend ordered the recommended pineapple-nutmeg combo and that was most impressive.

After we got home, everyone decided to soak up the last rays of sunshine by the pool before we had to leave the next day (since it was likely going to be raining in Sydney. Boo.) My friend Carol ran up from the beach and asked if anyone wanted to join her and a few others on a banana boat (essentially a fruit-shaped inflatable raft that's pulled across the water behind a speedboat), and since I hadn't taken advantage of any of the cheap water sports yet (parasailing = RM50, banana boating = RM13, etc.), I said yes.

Big mistake.

Seven of us climbed aboard the banana boat - I right behind this guy Toby, who was in front) - and waited for the speedboat to come pick us up. One of the boating staff held our boat in place in the water and splashed us to keep us entertained, but I couldn't tear my eyes away from the water: across the surface was everything from potato chip bags to dead fish and condoms. Even the beach was strewn with trash. Hmm, why hadn't I noticed these details before I'd hopped on the banana boat?

When we were finally hooked up to the speedboat and started making our way down the beach, I decided to take this as an opportunity to see more of the Penang coast. At first the ride was flat and pleasant, but after a minute and a half of this, the boat drivers decided to mix it up a bit. They started swaying the boat left and right, making the banana boat bump lightly over the small waves as my fellow riders laughed with glee. Deciding to step it up a bit, the drivers went for a particularly wide turn, making a much bigger wave. Rather than just coasting over this one though, the wave caught the bottom of the banana boat, and despite our efforts to lean collectively to the right and balance it out, the boat overturned to the right, causing us to spill into the murky water.

Somehow, I ended up flying backwards at a weird angle and hitting Ko, a guy sitting two spaces behind me, with the back of my head. Somersaulting through the water, I could feel a painful sensation in my head and numbness overtaking through my nerves as I surfaced, spluttering. I put one hand to my head to ward off the oncoming headache, feeling dazed and tingly. What was going on?

The boat guys called to me to board the banana boat with the others, but as I removed my hand from my scalp, I noticed a stream of blood making its way down my arm. Feeling alarmed, I touched my head again, and this time saw that blood was actually streaming through my hair and onto my left shoulder. I looked up at the speedboat drivers and demanded they immediately take me back to the beach.

We reached the Holiday Inn Resort in no time, which was fortunate because by now, I was fully panicked: my head was throbbing, my face felt numb, blood was continuing to stream through my hair onto my bathing suit, and these things combined were causing me to begin hyperventilating. Carol walked me to the hotel restaurant, and my friends - bless their hearts - immediately began covering my shaking self with towels and their t-shirts, bringing glasses of cordial and water from the bar while I waited for a nearby doctor to arrive.

I was driven to a nearby clinic down the street with my friend Ravi and one of the trip advisers, Stella, where I received EIGHT stitches on my two-inch long laceration before being taken to the Adventist hospital (which is actually an American hospital) for x-rays. At the hospital, the nurses further cleaned my cut and had to shave about 1/2 an inch around it in order to apply a bandage. Good thing I have thick hair - you could hardly notice it with my hair down. I made friends with the nurse, a fiftysomething man called Ooi, who talked to me about his grandkids in Manchester, England and the importance of living a happy life while I waited for my x-rays.

Fortunately, there was no damage other than a nice sized bump on my head, so I picked up my antibiotics and headed back to the hotel to order room service and get some much needed sleep before flying out the next day.

Now I just have two papers - one research, one reflection - and I'll have earned my six credits. Can't say it wasn't memorable...

Posted by Alykat 22:28 Archived in Malaysia Tagged boating Comments (0)

Day Nine: All Sorts of Adventures

dell factory, georgetown, and the penang night markets

sunny 30 °C

Today was our final business tour, so off we went to learn about...Dell computers! I've never really paid attention to the differences between laptop models (really, I just care that it connects to the internet, allows me to type papers, and has the space to hold several thousand songs and photos), but the more the presenter went on about "skin" personaization and all the internal customization you could order, I could feel myself edging into the factory.

Dell sends computers all over the world, but of their three US branches (Austin TX, Nashville TN and Winston Salem, NC), only Nashville has a manufacturing company. They run on 16-hour days (two 8 hour shifts) and the Penang factory employs about 2,000 staff (1,400 are manufacturers), so the warehouse was pretty crowded...and LOUD. Still, their efficiency is impressive: depending on the demand, they can turn out 40,000 units PER DAY.

Walking between the work stations, I noticed something interesting: most of the manufacturers appeared to be women. When questioned about this, our presenter said this was because a woman's hands are much more dainty, therefore making it easier for them to hold the tiny screws that hold the products together. The men, on the other hand, were mainly responsible for more strength-related work, such as handling the component deliveries that are dropped off at the factory every two hours.

Once we arrived back at the hotel, many students headed straight for the water, but Aimee, Carol and I decided to head into Georgetown (the main "downtown" area in Penang, about an hour's bus ride from the hotel). Originally we'd figured we would join a group of others' plan to rent motorbikes, but given the speed most folks go on the one narrow, windy road that leads into town, we thought better of it. Instead, we boarded a 2.50RM creaky old bus with wooden floors and a door that didn't close properly. Awesome.

After about 30 minutes on the bus we had no idea how far we'd come, but since we'd just passed a few market stalls on the side of the road, decided to disembark and explore. We stopped an old Englishman to find out if we'd reached Georgetown and he just laughed: apparently we'd gotten off much too early. No bother, we figured, and started walking.

Turning down one busy street, we came to Buddhism Central: on one side was a Thai Buddhist temple decked out with flaming dragon statues and featuring a giant resting Buddha inside, and on the other, a Burmese Buddhist temple that resembled a Chinese-style mansion. We stopped in the Thai temple to meditate for a few minutes before continuing down the street.

We must have walked for 45 more minutes, popping into Asian bakeries and admiring the architecture, until we finally reached our destination: Penang Road! This, I was told, was the main strip through Georgetown, and boy was it a market mecca! The three of us immediately beelined for the stalls, losing ourselves among the pashminas, t-shirts, trinkets and traditional dresses.

Before heading off, I stopped by a little drinks stall for some "cendol," [an iced coconut drink made with gummy bits]. An old friend from SF State, who'd been born in Penang, had highly suggested I try this on Penang Road. It kinda tasted like those Asian bubble teas with the tapioca balls at the bottom, but it wasn't something I'd order again. Good experience though!

We caught the bus back in time to see the sun set over the hills, but by the time we reached Batu Ferringhi (where the hotel was located), it was dark - and time for the night markets! These were the number one tourist trap: everywhere you looked were fake watches, Louis Vuitton and Prada bags, sunglasses; wooden statues and vases; traditional Asian paintings and clothing...and pirated dvds. Hundreds and hundreds of movies and tv show box sets were set up on stalls hidden from the road by tarps, yet no one seemed concerned about getting busted. I'll leave it up to your imagination to figure out what I did in this situation.

Before heading to the hotel, Aimee, Carol and I stopped in a food court behind the markets to grab some noodles and soup. The total cost of my meal? Six ringgits. How was I ever going to face paying more for a meal when I got back to Sydney?!

Posted by Alykat 21:28 Archived in Malaysia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Welcome to Paradise

arriving in Penang

sunny 30 °C

Rather than flying the one hour route from KL to Penang (which is part of an island just east of the Malaysian mainland), my lecturer thought it'd be neat for us to see the landscape as we drove out of the city and over the 15 km long bridge that connects Penang to the mainland. We drove past kilometers of palm oil fields (palm oil is another prime export), various places of worship, and a few markets for about six hours before we reached the bridge leading us towards the one place everyone was keen to visit: the beach.

Upon reaching the Holiday Inn Resort at the end of a long, windy road (the only main road through Penang), most students immediately changed into their suits and hit the water (out hotel was quite conveniently located right on the beach, but the ocean water was actually pretty dirty. Luckily, the hotel featured a gorgeous oceanside pool and nearby bar, so everyone settled in comfortably.) I checked out my room - again, I was hooked up with a solo, this time overlooking the ocean from the 21st floor! Sweet!

Feeling hungry, I tagged along with a small group to an Indian restaurant just down the street, where we tucked into plates of curry, butter chicken and noodles with plenty of garlic naan, before rejoining everyone by the pool.

We stayed by the water for the rest of the afternoon, ordering plates of nasi goering (spicy fried rice, in this case served with chicken skewers and prawns) and cocktails until sunset, when we dashed out to the beach and watched as the most incredible display of fiery color lit up the sky. I have never seen so much red in a sunset, and I have to say this was probably the most beautiful I've ever seen (no offense, Hawaii.)

The lot of us headed down the beach to grab a bite to eat at a nearby outdoor restaurant, chatting over 6RM bottles of Jaz beer (not as good as Tiger, but the price was right) about how lucky we were to be earning course credit for this experience. I mean really...I was getting six credits to sit by the beach and hang out with 38 awesome students? We joked about collectively failing so we could repeat the class together. Haha.

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Posted by Alykat 07:45 Archived in Malaysia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Day Seven: Our Last Day in KL

money, religion, and aussie trading

sunny 26 °C

Today featured a mix of events. We started at the Bank Negara Malaysia for a presentation on Islamic banking, which is when it really hit me that I was in a completely foreign country. The presence of religion even in the financial system is intense: for example, the bank doesn't charge account holders interest because it's against the teachings in the Qu'ran. They believe nothing is accidental and that everything happens because of "God's will," so they have their own insurance policy called "Takeful." And, because they don't invest in non-Muslim, high-risk businesses (casinos, strip joints, etc.), they haven't been affected as much by the global financial crisis. Imagine being an Australian businessperson looking to set up shop in this type of setting - they have to educate themselves about the different legal requirements of regular and Islamic banking systems. Sounds complicated.

On our way to the Australian High Commission for our next tour, we stopped by a beautiful Buddhist temple. I'm not particularly swayed by any one religion and didn't grow up practicing anything, but the Buddhist values have always appealed to me. I like the fact that it encourages you to better yourself and be your own Supreme Being, and I left the temple with a stack of free books and brochures to further read up on its teachings.

Perhaps my favorite educational tour was next, at the Australian High Commission, where we listened to the presentation about Australia’s trade relations with Malaysia and how to be successful in business in Southeast Asia. Malaysia’s economy is only a fifth of the size of Australia’s, but 50 percent of their GDP comes from their exports (particularly rubber and timber) and they maintain their status as one of Australia’s top 10 trading partners (3,500 Australian companies export to Malaysia annually as well). Our presenter, Gareth, highlighted that the most important skill a Malaysian businessman (or women) had to possess was a strong command of the English language; without it, he said, you were “the lowest in the Malaysian economy.” This explained why everyone I’d spoken to in shops and restaurants spoke English so well: their careers depended on it. I’d expected to face a much bigger culture shock because of the language barrier, but I’d been happily surprised to find I could easily carry on a conversation with just about everyone I’d met.

What I also found fascinating about Gareth’s presentation was how divided the Malays, Malay-Chinese and Malay-Indian were, and particularly how evident the degradation and hostility towards each other was in the media. I was shocked to hear that a non-Malay businessperson’s promotion is often printed in the newspaper, as to draw attention to the idea that they’re treated fairly and have the ability to move up the job ladder just like their full Malay co-workers. Still, since 14 of the top 20 wealthiest businesspeople in Malaysia are Chinese or Indian, it sounds like they’re doing quite well for themselves.

The rest of the night was a lot of fun: chips and salsa at Chili's (haha), last minute shopping at KLCC, then heading out to Luna Bar, a gorgeous spot with a pool and a rooftop bar overlooking the city and Petronas Towers, and finally...Reggae Bar, for the last time. We ended up scoring t-shirts from the bar to wear around for the rest of our trip. :)

Posted by Alykat 07:42 Archived in Malaysia Tagged educational Comments (0)

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