21 December 2015

Penang Spice Gardens

I am an absolute sucker for Botanical Gardens.  I am, myself, a truly awful gardener.  I have just so much as to glance at a plant for it to wither and die.  Mr EE is rather good but we have never really had the time to devote to a proper garden.  Even when we were in long term accommodation a stretch of lawn and some plants in pots were as much as we can ever hope for.  A far cry from my cousin’s rather lush and impressive allotment.

Tropical Spice Gardens Penang

Nevertheless I do appreciate the beauty of gardens and while we cannot hope to enjoy our own we always try to see ones that others have worked on.  When I heard about the Spice Gardens in Penang I was determined to visit.  

Tropical Spice Gardens Penang

The gardens are set in a compact yet diverse patch of land on Pulau Pinang (Penang Island) a short drive out of the capital, Georgetown.  There is a beautiful beach and some food stalls just opposite the entrance.  Just as we had walked into the gardens and were in the process of buying tickets the heavens opened. 

Tropical Spice Gardens Penang

Being stuck in the small kiosk could have been dull but the guides took the time to talk us through the layout of the garden and advise on the best route with the pushchair.  They had a basket of common spices on the main desk which meant we could talk Master and Miss EE through the different spices they could see and ask if they could remember what dishes I used them in.  They were pretty good, more so when the guides let them smell the spices than when they just looked at them.  There were a few there, however, that completely evaded all of us, one being Torch Ginger which is, apparently, a key ingredient in laksa, a popular local dish.

As the rain started to settle we set off up the main road.  Most visitors would walk through the paths but this was not possible with the push chair.  Instead we took it in turns, one adult remaining on the path and the others taking side trips with the children.  We saw spice plants, vanilla, coffee and tea plants, rubber plants and many, many more. The garden is also peppered with impressive sculpture and art installations.  It also has a piece of driftwood which washed up on the beaches nearby after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, it is now covered in plants. 

There are very informative boards around the site that describe the plants’ background and uses and the audio guide is genuinely useful and informative.  In addition to the gardens there is a tea pavilion and a café, a gift shop and a rather innovative 3D snakes and ladders game where the children themselves are the pieces and climb up ropes and down slides.  Sadly the rain had made it too dangerous to play on.  The children were a little disappointed but perked up when they realised that there was a tortoise pond complete with kangkong provided to feed them.  Even so we spent about 21/2 hours in the gardens and enjoyed every minute.

The gardens run cookery classes using ingredients sourced from their own plants.  If we had more time I would have signed on for a course as it does look like excellent fun.

For more posts on life in Malaysia click on the picture below.

Ersatz Expat

16 December 2015

Ostrich Satay - not for me...

A few months ago we went on a trip to Seremban (a small Malaysian state capital just south of KL).  There is actually very little to do there and so while Mr EE was giving his presentation at the conference he was in town for, the children and I decided to explore the coastline.  Seremban is quite close to Port Dickson (or PD as it is usually referred to) which is a popular Malaysian resort town and my groupon is forever trying to convince me to book an all-inclusive break there.  To be honest those sort of breaks are not really our cup of tea but I thought that there might be some things to see and do in town.

When we arrived, however, the town centre was somewhat disappointing; lots of commercial centres with shop houses very little different to any other Malaysian town.  We enjoyed the drive in along the coast, however, looking over the Straits of Melacca and seeing the tankers in the distance (PD was originally developed for the export of tin ore and when that started to wane became the location of a large refinery).  South of the town the resort complexes begin in earnest and the area begins to resemble resort towns the world over.  We could have been in Spain!  A little further and we came to a sign for the PD Ostrich Farm.  Expecting very little (these smaller animal ‘farms’ are generally not well run) I decided to stop as we needed to give the baby a bottle.

The owners of the ‘farm’ are obviously passionate about ostriches and there is plenty of information on these fascinating birds.  After a quick sit down with a bottle of water for us and a bottle for the baby we took a walk around.  There are a lot of smaller animals, chickens, goats (very cute as always) and rabbits (poorly cared for with large open sores on their bodies).  The ostriches were tame enough to take food from our hands.  Master and Miss EE were happy enough to feed the goats and the two adorable little donkeys we came across (I have a soft spot for donkeys) but could not quite bring themselves to feed the birds.

The enclosures were small and not particularly well maintained, there was a rather depressed looking camel who, like the rabbits, had open sores on his hump and many of the ostriches had plucked their feathers.  A tour complete the owners tried to persuade us to book an archery or quad biking experience or ride an ostrich, race one against a horse or stand on a (replica) ostrich egg.  They seemed rather surprised when we decided to forgo those pleasures.  We also decided not to partake of the Ostrich Satay on sale in the café.

The whole visit left me profoundly depressed.  I have been to a number of smaller animal centres and when done well they can be a delight (I am thinking of the Otter Sanctuary in the British New Forest or the Moose Farm in Ostersund, Sweden.  This was nothing like those farms.  Some basic adjustments could make it into an interesting place to visit but it was poorly maintained as many of these places are in the region, run for a profit and very little care for animal welfare.

The children enjoyed seeing the animals but even at their ages they could tell that they were not well cared for and did not really want to extend their stay.  It is, sadly, easy to dismiss opinions like mine as those of a privileged expat with no cultural understanding or feel for my host country but that is not really fair.  I have seen excellent welfare projects here in Malaysia (not least the Orang Utan island in Bukit Merah which was world class) and I have heard good reviews of the Elephant Sanctuary near KL.  The state of this farm was all to do with a cynical use of animals for profit and that is a problem for all countries and all cultures.  

Click on the picture below for more posts on life in Malaysia

Ersatz Expat

Posted as part of the Animal Tales linky hosted by Eco Gites of Lenault


5 December 2015

Gua Tambun - Rock Paintings in Ipoh Malaysia

When we first arrived here in Ipoh we had been told that there were cave paintings created by the ancestors of the Orang Asli in the caves and rock faces around the town.  We had asked some local friends where we could go to see the paintings but none of them knew  or were particularly interested in this little bit of history discovered as recently as the 1950s

Gua Tambun Rock Art Ipoh
Ipoh has ancient rock paintings - lots of them!
A little bit of burrowing on Mr Google supplied the answer which was that they were located, next to the motorway directly behind the petrol station we drive past every day.  The next time we drove past we decided, completely on spec, to park and try and see what we could see.  Luckily Mr EE and the children were appropriately dressed.  I was not, however as I happened to be wearing a tea dress and high heels (though luckily I did have the camera with me).

To find it walk through the polo field
Sure enough at the petrol station we found a sign directing us to the cave – via the polo field next door.  This all started to feel very surreal but we ploughed on across the grass, picking up a friendly dog who shadowed us the whole way – never getting too close but always keeping us in sight.  As a result we saw very little wildlife as we walked across the field and to the base of the cliff.  We startled a monitor and could hear monkeys but that was about it.

Climb the steep stairs
At the base of the cliff there was a small pavilion to take a rest but we walked on climbing the steep concrete steps.  We did not count but I would estimate that there are about 150 all told. 
At the top of the cliff we came to an abri rather reminiscent of Les Eyzies in the Dordogne but where the rubble at the base had built up quite considerably.  The first paintings we came to were very obviously modern graffiti which was disappointing in the extreme.  We could see places where the rock appeared to have been scraped – whether to remove the paintings to a museum or as a show piece for some vandal’s home we do not know. 

Do not be disheartened by the graffiti
As we walked along the cliff face we finally saw what all the fuss was about – a multitude of different figures  drawn on the rock in a red pigment.  They included  a tortoise, a dugong, what looked like a caelocanth, what we think were Orang Utans and various deer and cows.  Like the rock paintings we saw in Alta (Norway) some of the paintings showed pregnant animals.  The paintings themselves, while old, are not ancient, dating to about 3,000 years ago.  It is said that they are similar in style to the paintings seen in PNG and Australia.  All in all there are about 600 but we did not see anywhere near this many.

Gua Tambun Rock Art Ipoh
Find the real thing
Our canine friend had climbed to the top with us and at one stage called out.  Funnily enough when we got to the base of the hill another dog was waiting for us and the two tailed us together.  The children had great fun making up stories of the canine defenders of this interesting site – working to protect it from vandalism!  They would, we were told, have attacked us had we tried to write on the walls.  I love the mind and imagination of children.

Gua Tambun Rock Art Ipoh
And try to work out what they mean - a cauldron, a birthday cake...?
We were very pleased to have been able to see the paintings even if I was not quite suitably attired.  What surprised us most of all is that more is not made of the site.  There is no information on the paintings (save for a small piece of text) and there is no presence on site.  Just about anywhere else this would be a major attraction.  There also appears to be very little attempt made at preservation although this seems about to change with some dynamic local students and interest bodies coming together to form a local action project to protect and promote the rock art.

Gua Tambun Rock Art Ipoh
Some kind of cattle - a gaur perhaps?
Gua Tambun Rock Art Ipoh
What can you see?
Gua Tambun Rock Art Ipoh
Selfie of its day?
It was a pleasure to be able to go and see these wonderful paintings and, in many ways, the experience was all the more special because we were the only people there without even a guide.  It would, however, be a shame if erosion and the weather were to cause all this to be lost forever and it is also a crying shame that they are not better known and all the very best of luck to the new action group.  

The climb is moderately challenging in the heat but if I can do it
dressed like this than anyone can!

Our canine escort
Click on the picture below for more posts about Ipoh and Malaysia

Ersatz Expat

Ersatz Expat

Posted as part of the #Showyourworld link up co hosted by the excellent Tiny Expats and Girl Gone London.

3 December 2015

Lata Kinjang

Lata Kinjang is a spectacular waterfall visible from the North South Expressway when driving from KL to Ipoh. Every time we have driven past we have said that we wanted to visit but had never managed to get around to it.  Last weekend we decided to go and visit Gua Tempurung, one of the key show caves in Malaysia and used as a base for communists in the Emergency and, some say, as a Japanese prison during the occupation.  Sadly when we turned up it was closed for repairs (no notice to this effect on their website).

Lata Kinjang Perak
Bathing at the base of the waterfall
Rather annoyed at missing a chance to see it we decided to try to find the route to the waterfall. A short drive down the road later and we found the sign. We had to pay for parking but it was absolutely worth the RM15(£2.50).  There are a number of hawker stalls run by the Orang Asli (aboriginal Malaysians) who live in the village by the park.  Kampong chickens, including very plump, beautiful, healthy looking roosters just wander around and there are plenty of spots to set up a barbeque.

Lata Kinjang Perak
Making the most of the water

A little further on and we came to the pool at the base of the waterfall.  Although the water enters the pool with some power it is ‘gentle’ enough that those who want to can sit under the flow and feel brave.  Looking to the side it is clear that the waterfall doubles in width when the flow is at its heaviest.  Bathing is not supervised or regulated but the park authorities had placed a lot of very good quality information signs to highlight the dangers people should be aware of when visiting waterfalls.  In particular it warned to be careful in periods of heavy rain and the signs of the headwater phenomenon including sound of advancing water, foam and twigs that indicate that a headwater surge might be on its way.  

Lata Kinjang Perak
The path up the side of the waterfall is easy to walk and well maintained
We played around in the water for a while, as we had not been intending to go to the waterfall we did not have swimwear with us but the children were quite happy to just roll up their trousers and get a little wet.  After a good long play (the water was surprisingly warm) we climbed up a paved pathway to a rope bridge connecting the right and left banks of the fall.  It is possible to climb further although the children could not have managed the trails (which were very steep and not at all well delineated) Mr EE had Mini EE in the carrier and could not go off the path at all. It was possible to swim in the pools here as well but the water was cascading with more force and we decided not to allow the children in (we were not dressed to do more than wade ourselves so could not supervise them). 

Lata Kinjang Perak
People enjoy bathing further up the falls
A walk across the rope bridge allowed us to see to the very top of the waterfall and the water seemed to dance of the rocks in sheets.  On the other side of the rope bridge a forest path leads back down to the base of the falls. 

Lata Kinjang Perak
The falls are truly spectacular and mesmerising to watch
Malaysian forests are very thick and it is not unknown for people to go missing.  Just a few months ago several Orang Asli children went missing from their school and despite extensive searches were not found for weeks.  In the end only two survived, and they were located less than 500m from their school.  For this reason we do not go walking in the forests although we had been planning to wait until raffelesia were in season, get a babysitter for Miss EE and hire a guide to take us to see the plants. 

Lata Kinjang Perak
We could have spent hours!
The route from the bridge down to the base of the falls, while vague, was marked every few meters and was suitable for walking alone, it was also very short.  Master and Miss EE wanted a chance to ‘hike’ through the forest I took the children down this route while Mr and Mini EE took the wider and more sure path back down on the other side.  On that walk he had some time to explore the tributaries that entered the main fall and saw, in several places, some shrines of offerings of fruit and candles set up by some of the local Orang Asli from the village.  

Lata Kinjang Perak
The start of the forest path down - it got less
defined very quickly
The forest path that I took was indeed overgrown and barely visible in places with some trails going off to the side and had we not had the waterfall to our right to guide us I can see how it would be easy to lose bearings.  This was a safe way to give the children a taste of the forest – just challenging enough for them to feel they had done something adventurous and brave and close enough to the village and waterfall for me to know that we were ok.

Lata Kinjang Perak
The children get ready for a well deserved paddle
Back down with the children feeling on top of the world, we had another wade, removed some leaches the children had picked up in the forest (of which they were incredibly proud for some reason and whipped off with little complaint which surprised me as I loathed and was scared of them at that age) and picked up some treats from one of the stalls.  

It was a fabulous way to end what had started as an extremely disappointing day and we would love to return, properly attired, for a swim and relax.

Posted as part of the monthly #TravelAtHome linkup.  Click on the picture for more posts on less well known but absolutely wonderful places around the world.

Ersatz Expat

Click on the picture for more posts about life in Malaysia

Ersatz Expat

2 December 2015

Travel at Home 2

Wherever you are in the world there are probably so many wonderful and fascinating things to see.  If you are anything like my family it becomes all too easy to ignore the sites close to home, falling prey to the belief that they will 'always be there'.  Familiarity breeds contempt and we hanker after the exotic.  But the truth is home for one person is exotic to many others.  As an expat family we get to be at home in a wide range of different places and we try to make sure that we make the most of any place we are living right now, getting out and exploring as much as possible.  

Travel at Home is the linky for people who want to write about their home (or host) location and all the places that don't make it into a guide book (but really should).  You don't have to be an expat to participate, just someone with a passion for their local area.  

The inaugural Travel at Home took us from the Baltic to the Ukraine, France to Cornwall and China to Guyana by way of South Africa and Malaysia.  I now want to go and visit all the places mentioned but I think the post that most fired my imagination was on  Pechersk Lavra near Kiev. Thank you to Tiny Expats for that post!

The second Travel at Home link will be open for a week so there is plenty of time to add your post (or posts).  If you notice that something does not work as it should or you think I could improve something please do let me know.

There are just a few rules:
  • Share your post - it can be a new post or an old one you want to share with a new audience.
  • You can write about anywhere as long as you have or had a connection to the location.
  • Add the link up button to your post so that people can navigate back easily.
  • Comment on some of the other posts on the link up (the more the merrier).
  • Tweet/share your link.  If you include me (@ErsatzExpat) in your tweet I will retweet.
  • Add your post to the Travel At Home Pinterest Board contact me via Pinterest and I will add you to the board.
  • Spread the word - the more the merrier and everyone is welcome.
Monthly link ups will go in the main feed but will then be linked to the Travel At Home page for reference.  Thank you in advance for linking up and participating in this new venture.  I look forward to enjoying some vicarious visits in the next few days.  

Ersatz Expat

1 December 2015

Why I Hate Pet Shops

I should probably qualify the statement in my title.  A good pet shop, one that sells toys, food, pet aides, crates, beds etc is invaluable particularly when the people who run it are generally friendly, helpful and a mine of pet related information.  The lady who ran our favorite pet shop in Astana was absolutely brilliant in this regard and I love to go into the Pets at Home warehouses in the UK – it is like a treasure trove of wonderful things for your pet.

No, the type of pet shop I hate are the ones that sell animals with absolutely no regard for their welfare and sadly they are still all too common here in Malaysia.  A friend of ours got their cats through one of these shops and they have had a variety of health problems - our little stray, Kismet, rescued from the streets was much healthier - a true indictment on the 'care' these places provide their charges.

One of the pet shops near our home sells a wide variety of exotic pets as well as puppies and kittens taken from their mothers too early and left to wait alone and un-socialised in a cage.  This is why I hate pet shops…

This poor cat has nowhere comfortable to sleep and has no place
to hide from prying eyes
No real enrichment for this poor chap

This ferret is practically bald

A poor environment for young pups to grow up in

Completely un-socialised a bad start in life

Poodles are clever- he must be bored stiff

Desperate for any interaction or loving contact

And marked down because no one wants him

Yes - this really is a raccoon being sold as a family pet!

These little chaps sold for £15 will probably end up being 'liberated'
into an overcrowded temple pond for 'merit'.

Click on the picture for more posts about Malaysia

Ersatz Expat

Posted as part of the Eco Gites de Lenault Animal Tales Link up