27 May 2015

Expat Gadget Hunt

I have a real love for gadgets and I find that they improve my life disproportionately compared with their actual value.  I love, for example, browsing the Lakeland UK catalogue and always find something I 'need' in amongst their pages.  Their stores (there is one near my mother in law) are heaven on earth! 

Life as an expat is all about compromises.  Some things that are an absolute necessity in your home country are just not available abroad so you have to bring them with you or just make do, particularly when they get lost in a move. Every destination has its own difficulties but, by way of compensation they often teach you about gadgets that you never thought you might need which then become an integral part of daily life.  

When we moved to Kazakhstan our landlady furnished us with a ‘thermopot’ instead of a kettle.  What was the point, we thought, about having a pot of boiling water always at hand when a kettle (we used a stove top one in the UK) is just as easy.  How wrong we were, the trusty thermopot gives us hot water at a press of a button, I now find myself getting impatient for the time it takes our parents’ kettles to boil when we go to visit them, so much so that we bought our own pot.  My other must haves from various postings include my Turkish coffee maker (I rarely drink coffee but when I do I like the hit to be intense), my rice cooker, my breadmaker (sadly presently locked in a UK container) and my lovely Kenwood. 

The department store sells neck rings, because what
mother wants to take their baby swimming without one
... but knife sharpeners prove elusive.
Living in Malaysia there are a number of things that I use every day that I thought would be easy to find. How wrong could you be?  When we first arrived I went to the department store to look for a knife sharpener as our previous one was a mysterious casualty of the move.  None of them were available for sale in the shop; I asked and even showed pictures and was told…’not here’.  I looked in the supermarkets, in the gadget shops, in the vegetable markets, in just about any and every location I could think of. 

In the Chinese department store I found covers for the
well dressed washing machine...but no knife sharpener
During my time in Miri I found so many weird and wonderful things for sale but never came across my simple knife sharpener.  I am not fussy, I would have been happy with a whet stone, I even thought about using my front step but all the stones in the garden were marble so no luck there!  

In the mall I can see to my beauty needs with sheep placenta and
eyelid tape .... but my knives were destined to remain blunt.

Finally the day before we moved to Ipoh I found the object of my dreams in a new delivery to the Japanese 5RM (£1) gadget shop  – I am now the proud owner of a knife sharpener, who would have thought that a simple quest could have taken 9 months.  I was almost disappointed when it was over.

Hedgehogs for sale in the covered market...
but no knife sharpeners.
Nevertheless other projects remain.  My hob here is gas (I dislike cooking on gas) and I need some simmer plates to control the temperature a little better.  They are nowhere to be found; my sister has a set in the UK, but they are an old set of mine purchased in the Netherlands, she had searched for these elusive gadgets for about 5 years before I made a gift of them.  I suspect, therefore, based on prior experience, that by the time a set turn up I will be living in a house with a lovely, easily controlled (if expensive to run), electric hob.

My chairs can be fashionably shod...
knives are not so lucky.
My other quests are for a static, vertical vegetable peeler and a cheese slice, also casualties of recent moves.  I know I could use a knife for both but I prefer a peeler for the vegetables.  The one I have at the moment is set on a swivel and I just don’t have the knack to use it properly and quickly.  I am sure there must be a static one out there somewhere, whenever we go to a new city I make time to search in the department store for my desired objects.  Rather like a treasure hunt the children have been promised a big surprise if they spot one for me before we return to the UK for a family wedding at Christmas time. 

The supermarkets sell this joyful concoction,,,
but no knife sharpeners
Where cheese is concerned this is a topic of cultural culinary tension in our house.  My husband puts thick, knife cut, slices of cheese in his sandwiches.  I think that is wasteful – hard cheese should be sliced for this purpose.  I have searched high and low but to no avail.  My sister and father have been tasked to search for a slice in the UK.  If none can be found I shall have to ask my uncle to bring one to my sister’s wedding in December, possibly together with some simmer plates.  

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14 May 2015

Paradise in Sarawak

While Miri itself is more of a staging post than a destination within Sarawak it is very close to some lovely, tranquil beaches lapped by the South China Sea.  We are not overly fond of beach holidays in and of themselves (we never really manage to just sit and cook) but think they are wonderful places to take the dogs for a walk.  Our house in Miri was in a beautiful garden suburb but it was plagued by so many street dogs that we could not easily take them for a walk. The beach then, was their opportunity to stretch their legs and even go for a swim. (Always bearing in mind that there are many people here in Malaysia who cannot touch or get close to dogs so we have to keep them under close control near people at all times). Our English dog had seen beaches and the sea before but there was something truly magical about being able to introduce our Kazakh Steppe dog to the water for the first time.  

Long, deserted and unspoiled beaches

Seeing the water for the first time

The end of the beach!

Within or just on the outskirts of Miri you can get to the popular Luak Esplanade and Hawaii Beach where you can rent a cabin for the day, these areas tend to be teeming with people, however, and we prefer a little more quiet.  From as little as 20 km out of town there are short dirt roads that take you down to the beach with enough space to park the car before getting out to enjoy a walk.  We never had any problems finding somewhere to go for a roam.  A few months ago, however, we decided to drive a little bit further on towards Benenu. 

It is easy to get down on to the beach
Pantai Bungai is being developed as a small resort with
places to buy food and engage in adventure activities
Pantai Bungai is not yet busy, the beaches are pristine and
seemingly endless
Shortly before the town, about 60km from Miri we saw a turn off for Pantai (beach) Bungai.  We drove down to find possibly the most beautiful beach we have ever seen.  The local government is capitalising on this and have built a small bazaar where you can buy cold drinks and snacks, a children’s playground and a stage for open air performances.  This is still mostly under construction but I suspect it will not be long before tourists are flocking here in their droves, it is certainly heavily promoted in Miri tourist literature although none of our friends had ever heard of it or made the trip down.  People do, however, already come out here; a little further down the road the Santai Sijiak Café offers snacks and refreshing mocktails.  The friendly owner arranges banana boat rides, caving, abseiling and nature walks both for groups and individuals.  A local homestay also offers rooms for people who want to stay the night and there are more accommodation options in Bekenu. 

Pals cooling down in the water

The beaches are quiet enough to allow the dogs off the lead
The beach stretches in a crescent around a bay and there are a number of small fishing settlements along the beach.  It is possible to walk up to some cliffs and even, if the tide is out, walk along their base to look at the caves inside.  Check the local tide times before doing this though, the beach shelves gently and the tide comes in very quickly.  We spent many (though not enough), Sundays walking up and down the beach giving the dogs a treat and enjoying the sun before grabbing a drink and a snack and heading home to Miri.

Off duty fishing boats kept away from the water

And some that have not lasted so well
Exploring the cliffs (before the tide comes in)

There are a few places in the world that, to me, are evocative of what I believe paradise to be.  One was a small place on a quiet river in Nigeria where two houses were nestled in beautifully kept grounds and we could swim in the river.  Another is Lake Bohinj in Slovenia.  Pantai Bungai joins these two places in my mind and, now that we have left Sarawak, our walks there are one of the dominant memories that spring to mind when I think of our 9 months in Miri.  


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