28 November 2015

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers

I was very honoured to be nominated to a blogging challenge/award by the lovely Phoebe of LouMessougo.  I enjoy reading her blog immensely and the more I read it the more I think we are related somehow.  As a lifelong expat, Phoebe’s life has been rather similar to mine and I notice from her posts that she thinks along very similar lines to me.
So the award Phoebe has kindly nominated me for is the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers award.  She has asked me 10 questions which I will try to answer to the best of my abilities.  In turn I have to nominate another 10 bloggers and ask them 10 questions of my own and so on. 

1. When did you start blogging? What is your favourite blog post, and why?
I started the blog in early 2013.  I had been thinking about starting one for a while but had been very busy with work.  Starting the blog coincided with a quiet period for me and helped to keep me busy during a long cold Kazakh winter during which I had been rather unwell.

I am not sure I can really pick a favourite post, they all do different things for me at the time I write them.  I loved writing about the memories evoked by flicking through Miss EE’s passport when it was sent off for renewal.  Expat children get so many wonderful opportunities and grow with each one.  Her passport is like a map of her life to date.  Writing about the time complete strangers came to help us when our tyre blew on a dark motorway was humbling – it reminded me how kind people can truly be and I think I had the most fun with a post called Expat Gadget Hunt about all the weird and wonderful things I can buy here in Malaysia when I can’t even find something simple like a knife sharpener. 
The weird and wonderful gadgets you find in host countries
2. How do you describe your blog's niche?
Hmm, I’m not sure that I have a niche as such.  As a perpetual expat I think I am able to look at the challenges and benefits of expat life from the view of both adults and children and I think I bring an understanding of the stresses difficult and dangerous postings heap on children and as an extension of this I write a fair bit about coping with the ups and downs of expat life.  Very few people blog about life in Kazakhstan and so although we left there a year and a half ago I still get a lot of people contacting me for advice on a move to the country or how to sort things out once they are there and while there are a lot of expats blogging about life in Malaysia very few talk about life in Sarawak or outside the main cities.

We are about to move again and I will be reaching out to bloggers in our new host country.  There are a few but not that many so it will be interesting to see how my blog is perceived when I start writing about it.
Astana is still a niche destination
3. Do you have a day job other than blogging?  Do you support yourself blogging?
Sadly my chosen professions (litigation and politics a heady combination that makes everybody want to really like me!) are not compatible with expat life.  Mr EE was once offered a job by a company who happened to be looking for someone with pretty much my exact set of professional skills in the same location and we were offered the two jobs in tandem.  It would have been both fascinating and exciting.  Sadly we had some ethical objections to the set-up of the schools and had to turn the job down. 

In Astana I was a regular guest speaker at conferences on encouraging wider participation in democracy and the growth of local government.  In recent years I have also worked remotely as the relationship manager for a French company offering holiday rentals, been a school librarian and been the headmistress of a nursery school.   The latter was a surreal experience as my only background in education is being married to a teacher but the only qualification they wanted was an expat at a loose end willing to devote 10 hours a day to the school and who spoke some Russian.  Mr EE has devoted his professional life to climbing the career ladder to Headmaster.  He had just been appointed Headmaster Designate in Miri when I was approached with the job offer so I beat him to it by 6 months!

Visa restrictions have limited my ability to work here in Malaysia, I might get something in KL but opportunities are pretty much non existent where we are.  I don’t like doing nothing, however, so I have taken on some freelance writing jobs through an online freelancing portal.  They keep me sane and help me maintain my mental edge.  Mini EE will be old enough to go to the crèche in the next posting and once we are settled I might look into some possible opportunities in the local area.  

Politics - not an expat friendly career (but I don't miss canvassing)
4. Do you do other writing or photography professionally?
The freelance writing has really taken off.  When I started in January this year I had only the one client but as my portfolio has grown I have gained a lot of repeat custom and I am probably at capacity for the moment.  I don’t really have the time to do as much as I would like – school runs and the baby eat into the day and if I can’t find something in our new posting I will concentrate on the writing and try to grow my client base. 

I am a keen photographer but not a good one.  I have read the theory and understand the mechanics of photography but I do not have a natural eye and I keep forgetting to check simple things (one time a whole set of photos were ruined because Mini EE had fiddled with the camera while I was not looking and changed the ISO settings).  Mr EE, by contrast, knows nothing of the theory but gets a beautifully framed shot every time.  Between us we would probably do a good job!

A mediocre (but always hopeful) photographer
5. What is your most popular post?  Why do you think it's so popular?
The most visited post is one I wrote early on about how to bake without self-raising flour.  It talks about how to make your own baking powder and what to use if you can’t find any.  It is a very practical post.  Reading it back now I would probably write it very differently and it is on my list to review in the future. 

The post people have engaged with the most is a photo tour of Astana.  Astana is one of those expat destinations that is still very ‘out there’.  With little information available for future expats the page seems to be a popular portal for those wanting to find out a little more about what they can expect in Astana. 
How to make baking powder!
6. What's your biggest challenge or frustration as a blogger?
I would love to have more time to write.  I am also not hugely fond of the blogger format that I use.  I wanted to create a wordpress blog but access  was restricted in Kazakhstan at the time and we did not have a VPN.  Rather annoyingly the restriction was removed some months later but by then I was already tied in to blogger.
Time goes too fast
7. Name some of your favourite blogs.  Why?  What makes a great blog in your opinion?
I love Diplomatic Dog by Scruffy Nellie.  She is Britain’s Canine representative in Guyana but I knew her when she was rescued off the streets in Kazakhstan and she is a good friend to our two dogs.  Her blog is an excellent way to see how she is getting on and her owner takes excellent photographs to boot.  She runs her own (non-canine) site called Less Blather More Bite which is always worth a look.

The DawlishChronicles by Antoine Vanner.  He writes about many lesser known stories of adventure and derring-do in the latter part of the 19th century.  His blogs are always worth a read.
I often pop by the hugely informative Your Expat Child  run by Carole Hallett Mobbs– there is always something of interest on there and she is lovely to write to as well.  The Dumpling Cart run by Celia is an eclectic mix of stories from around the world, often told through some very innovative data analysis.   The Cujo Cat Chronicles always make me laugh out loud and bring a bit of light relief on hectic days.

I also read a lot of political blogs but there are too many to mention here as the list could go on forever  – of course I love reading all the blogs by the ‘sisters’ I am going to nominate and Phoebe’s Lou Messugo blog as well.

8. What is your best travel memory?  Why?
When I was studying for my A Levels we were living in Eastern Turkey.  The security situation, which is never really good there, was dire at the time and we were very restricted in where we could go.  We had to take 4 bodyguards with us wherever we went and, on some cases, even more.  Security would have been made available for us to go to even the most inaccessible places if we asked but it was a privilege we did not want to abuse too often. 

As such we did not get to see as much of the local area as we would have liked and some trips to Mardin and Lake Hazar aside we spent most of the time on the camp in Diyarbakir.  One weekend, however, we were able to arrange a driving tour to see Nemrut Dag.  This megalomaniacal mausoleum consists of a gravel pyramid on the summit of Mount Nemrut surrounded by terraces of a pantheon of Gods, the heads of which stand higher than a man.  Driving to the hotel we went past bridges built by Septimus Severus and an old castle discovered by the older von Moltke during his time in Turkey just  crying out for more detailed excavation but having to wait its turn.  The following day we went to visit the Attaturk Dam which was, still under construction and were given a guided tour of the whole project. 

I have been lucky enough to go to some amazing places and see some truly wonderful things but this weekend was special.  I am not quite sure why – perhaps because it was so unusual in our (necessarily) cloistered life at the time or perhaps because we were the only people sightseeing in the area that weekend but I felt very privileged to be there. 
Turkey holds some of my best travel memories
9. Travel bucket list: name the top 3 places you want to visit
Only 3?  I really want to go to Vietnam and Laos.  We were hoping to take our car up from Ipoh and drive across from Thailand over this last summer but the timings just did not work out.  Namibia is very high on my list – the animals, the scenery, it looks like a holiday dream destination.  Finally Mr EE and I have wanted to take an Antarctic cruise since around the time we met, Ideally out of New Zealand for the chance to see some of ‘historic’ Antarctica and  I would also like to do some diving while we are there.  The costs are prohibitive for us at the moment – it is expensive enough for 2 let alone 5 and Mini EE is far too young to get anything out of it so it is on the back burner for the moment. 
There is always somewhere new to explore

10.  Is food important to you when you travel (other than its obvious function as fuel!)? What is the weirdest food you've ever eaten?
I am not adventurous in the food stakes by which I mean I enjoy a wide variety of world cuisines but am not excited by the opportunity to enjoy weird food.  Mr and Master EE will eat just about anything (although they are not keen on chicken).  When I eat something I enjoy I try to collect recipes to try to replicate the dish at home.

As for the weirdest thing – I have been offered but managed to avoid eating Monkey (there would have to be a pretty dire threat to make that dish appetising) and I have bought and cooked a joint of something whose label translated as ‘swine cervix’.  I chose to hope that it was a neck cut rather than an actual cervix and I comfort myself that it did not look cervical in nature.  Horse was common in Kazakhstan and although not a meat I choose to eat I can and will if I have to to be polite.  I have eaten marmite once and once ever (I mistook it for chocolate spread on my first morning in boarding school – the mistress made me eat the whole slice of toast).  In Ireland white and black (blood) pudding are popular for breakfast, I ate it once ever at Granny’s house and was so upset that she never made me eat it again.  I have tried haggis and wish it had never crossed my lips! 

I find milk deeply unpleasant and some of the weirdest things I have had to drink involve it.  Milky tea in Britain (why would an adult put milk in tea?), I have since realised that you have to specify your tea (or what the British pass off as tea) black if you are not to be greeted with a mug of some hot milky vomit inducing liquid in some British homes.  Funnily enough British friends and family who ask for milk in their tea are absolutely revolted by the stuff  I give them even when it is made with their tea bags as I never seem to get the ratios of milk to tea right.  I now routinely ask people to make their own.  Ayran or fermented mare’s milk was popular in Turkey and Kazakhstan and was often given as a welcome drink; drinking it was always a trial.  I thought that was about as bad as milk got but it gets worse – Shubat or fermented camel’s milk popular amongst Kazakhs is truly vile.  In fact writing this has made me think of the idea of British tea made with Shubat which must be about as grim as it gets! 

Enjoy your swine cervix and other random foods...
So having got that part out of the way I get to do the fun part and nominate my chosen ‘sisters’, in no particular order they are.
  • Life With A Double Buggy (I love reading this Blog as it is the exact reverse of my experience of moving from the Netherlands to UK)
  • Bringing Up Brits (this resonates with my experiences of raising our children in the UK)
  • Chicken Ruby (a wonderfully eclectic blog with such beautiful photographs)
  • Tiny Expats (on point observations on life with expat children in some fascinating destinations)
  • Olive Feta & Ouzo (some really insightful posts on expat life)
  • The Dumpling Cart (a fresh viewpoint on a wide range of issues)
  • Scruffy Nellie (who would not want to learn more about this cute woof)
  • Seychelles Mama (mum to two beautiful little boys living a real life in other people’s paradise destination)
  • Your Expat Child (a goldmine of information)
  • MumturnedMom (who always seems to manage her expat life with such grace)

So without further ado the questions I want to posit are:
  1. What was your first expat posting?
  2. What was your most memorable posting?
  3. What is your advice for settling into a new posting?
  4. What are the biggest frustrations in your current posting?
  5. What are the best points of your current posting?
  6. How do you come to terms with saying goodbye when it is time to move on?
  7. Where would you like to move to next?
  8. What is the thing that you miss the most from your home country?
  9. Why did you decide to start blogging?
  10. Please tell us a little about your most embarrassing expat/cultural mishap.
I look forward to reading all the answers.

Click on the picture for more posts on Expat Life

Ersatz Expat

26 November 2015

Melaka's Colonial District

Although Malaysia is a country with a fascinating history very little of that is evident on the face of most of the country.  The majority of the homes and commercial developments in towns are new builds.  There are some older buildings in and around the cities and when they are maintained they are beautiful but by and large the profusion of newer buildings can make urban Malaysia seem rather homogeneous.  There are exceptions to this, the best known being Penang to the north and Melaka to the south.  In their time they were both trading ports before Singapore took over as the hub of the region.   These two locations quickly became our favourite places in Peninsular Malaysia.  Over the summer holidays we took the opportunity to grab an AirBNB flat and spend a few days walking around Melaka.
Melaka's Colonial District
Melaka's Colonial District
Melaka rose to prominence as a trading port under the local Malay sultans in the 14th century but was colonised by the Portuguese in the early 16th century.  Their reign came to an end in 1602 when the port was taken over by the VOC (the Dutch East Indies Company) who handed it to the British in 1795.  Melaka struggled on in slow decline watching as the most lucrative trade went first to Penang and then to Singapore.  This chequered history means Melaka is a fascinating city of mixed cultural heritage and this is reflected in the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation that was granted in 2008.
Colonial Melaka
Melaka's history is written all over its face
We spent the first day enjoying a wander around the Colonial District.  It was very surprising for me to see Christ Church which is built in the Dutch style.  As soon as I walked through the door I felt as though I was back at home in the Netherlands again instead of in the heat of the tropics.  The similarities did not end there.  Many of the buildings date back to the Dutch Era and look rather comfortingly familiar (if out of place).  If the buildings are distinctive in design they have been somewhat ruined by the uniform application of a matt red paint which rather ruins the ambience.  Other than the interior of Christ Church my favourite part of the colonial town was the section of shop houses near the river where the distinctive narrow Dutch bricks were exposed, I could have been walking down a street in one of my early home towns. 

Christ Church Melaka
Christ Church Melaka
Sadly while the Churches (Dutch and Portuguese), Stathuys and some of the colonial buildings remain the fort built on the hill commanding the Melaka River was destroyed in the early 19th century when the bricks were needed to build a new fort in Penang.   Many of the older buildings house small museums dedicated to a variety of subjects including the Democratic Government Museum, The Stamp Museum, The UMNO (United Malays National Organisation, the main Malay political Party) Museum, the Islamic Museum and the Youth Museum.  There is also a park complete with a Small Plane and a train carriage (selling overpriced souvenirs) although we never worked out the relevance of this.

Dutch Bricks Melaka
My favourite street in Melaka
We walked down to the river to catch a tourist boat to see the sites from the water.  It is a lovely way to see the city, particularly some of the wall art for which it is famous.  The tour took us past the relatively new Pirate Theme Park built by the city council at eye watering cost and consisting of a rather lacklustre big wheel, a swinging boat and some other rides.  It looked pretty deserted as we sailed past and we could not quite work out who would be interested in a small theme park when they have the whole city to explore.  As we travelled further on we saw the famous Melaka Monorail.  It broke down on its first day when it was discovered that it could not cope with the rain (a bit of a problem in this climate).  At the turning point of the boat we could see a Monorail carriage parked overhead.  I guess this is meant to give the impression that the system works (or could do at any time) but a close look reveals that that train should not be moving anywhere soon!

Melaka River
Picturesque Melaka River
One of the real joys of the journey was spotting the many Monitor Lizards (I love monitors) swimming along the edge of the river just under the noses of the pedestrians on the boardwalk above.  After the boat ride we walked down to the Maritime Museum set in the hull of a replica of an early Portuguese trading ship.  Sadly by the time we reached it the museum was shut but it was fascinating to look around the outside and realise how small these pioneering ships, similar to the famous Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, really were.  More modern patrol craft are situated across the road and looked like fun to explore.

Melaka Monorail
The ill fated Melaka Monorail
Because of the heat and humidity we find that the children need to sit down and have a cold drink every few hours my refreshment of choice in the heat is some Limau Assam Boi (the rather unappetisingly named but heavenly to taste sour plum and lime juice).  As for food there are plenty of places to choose from in Melaka ranging from Malaysian to Thai to Western or the local Nyonya cuisine (Peranakans are people of mixed Chinese/Malay heritage, the men are called Babas and the women Nyonyas) cuisine. 

The riverbanks are decorated with wall art

And a boardwalk for those who prefer to stay off the water
Sadly the tourist authorities of Melaka allow a horrendous fleet of tourist trishaws.  Far from being a romanticised version of the vehicles of yesteryear these gaudy moving discos have flashing lights, are themed (the most popular appear to be Hello Kitty, Ben 10, Avengers and Frozen), and belt out the most unpleasant music.  They fill the streets and are almost impossible to avoid.

Tourist trishaws - an invention of the devil
Click on the picture below for more posts on Malaysia

Ersatz Expat

24 November 2015

Dog Walks and Wildlife Malaysian Style

One of the reasons we chose to live where we do in Ipoh was the fact that we had access to a large communal park.  The running track around our development is about 1km long and there is a further 2-3 kilometres in the other related developments run by the same company.  If we play our cards right we can do a 6km walk which is more than enough in the heat and humidity of Malaysia.  The children can also bring their bikes along if they want and it is easy on the pushchair.  Not quite as fun as walking on the beach or yomping through the woods as we love to do elsewhere (sadly  it is not safe to take the dogs into the jungle here)  but it is, for here, the most practical place to walk the dogs and there are even sections where they are allowed to be off lead. 

Our local area is very managed
but absolutely beautiful.
Ipoh Limestone Hills
Amongst stunning limestone hills
The area, known as ‘Sunway City’, is billed as living in a nature park but that is a tad optimistic.  The houses are cramped in their plots and built to a limited number of specifications so it looks like we live in 1980s London commuterville (if you are not familiar with the UK think Little Whingeing in Harry Potter) but it is set in the most fantastic limestone landscape and our walks are one of the most pleasurable aspects of life here.  The area may not be a nature park but it backs on to wild hills, is very green and we are next to a large lake and as a result the whole area is teeming with life.  On my runs I can see up to 10 different types of exotic animal in one 30 minute outing not to mention the beautiful plants.

We run into animals at the most unexpected times
Some a little ordinary.
Urban Monitor Lizard - Malaysia
And some that little bit special.  This monitor lizard was
searching for a way into a neighbour's garden.
Urban Monitor Lizard - Malaysia
Until the dogs startled him and he ran away.  Monitors run in a funny
way because of their leg design (funny hips) but they are fast.
On a walk with the dogs and children we tend to see a little less wildlife, partly because of the time of day and partly because they make a little more noise.  The children particularly enjoy feeding the fish and we have a wide variety of ornamental carp and some truly huge catfish to cater to.  The dogs like the lake and river too as it means they can go for a swim which cools them down on a long walk and help to ease Bessie’s arthritis. My favourite animal sightings are:

Turtle Malaysia
The lakes and water are full of turtles and terrapins.
  • Mr Crane: The crane is an idiot.  He is often on the river bank during my run, he gets spooked as he sees me jog up but then moves only 100m down the road and gets spooked again.  He gives me such a poisonous look he is hilarious.
  • The other birds:  I must try to get a Bird ID book.  We have a particularly vibrant yellow bird and a vibrant blue bird that flit about all over the place.  I think they are some type of kingfisher.  They move so fast and so unpredictably that I have never been able to get a photograph but they are so colourful.  We have a few other birds resident in our garden and they delight in teasing Kismet. 
  • The squirrel: he actually lives in the garden next to ours (the house is empty)  and comes to visit from time to time.  He is incredibly brave and thinks nothing of coming to visit when the dogs our out.  He is fast enough to escape them with ease but seems to love playing tag.
  • The terrapins:  they are quite hard to spot , they are very shy and often bob down under the surface almost as soon as you do see them.  If you know what you are looking for, however, you see the heads breach the surface as the terrapins just hang quietly in the water.
  • The fish:  these give us and all the other residents endless pleasure.  They seem to know when people are coming as they congregate looking for food.  The larger ones swim in the deep water and are quite bold – they will often come very close to the dogs and tickle their feet as they swim – the result is quite comic!
The fish always come to say hello - they are everyone's pets.
Some are really striking, all are protected - no fishing allowed.
  • The frogs: the frogs are shy and only really come out at night.  They are very striking to look at and I love to hear the noise they make.
  • The monitor lizards:  there are loads of these amazing creatures hiding away.  They are quite bold and one of the reasons we took Kismet (our adopted stray) home was that we were worried that this tiny kitten who was sheltering in a drain would become a tasty snack for one of the larger lizards.  The biggest one we have seen was longer than I am tall and looked extremely powerful.  We often see them swimming along in the lake or river and sometimes even walking along the path.  They avoid humans but are not at all bothered by any of the other animals.  Some of the smaller ones come onto the roads, the other day I nearly ran over a juvenile who had decided to sunbathe in the middle of the road.  He ran away very quickly and hid in a neighbour’s garden, much to the chagrin of her dog who was inside the house.  
the surrounding hills are full of caves which are home to bats
and swifts (the nests are still collected).  The trees are home to monkeys.
  • The monkeys: A whole troop of monkeys live in the trees on the bank of the river opposite our house.  We can sit and enjoy lunch in the garden while watching them play.  They are not the only troop by any stretch of the imagination – there are at least four distinct groups that we see on a regular basis and, of course, far more living on the hillsides around the area.  They are very cheeky and I am pleased that we have animals of our own to keep them out of the garden.  Master EE saw one on the roof outside his bedroom window a few weeks ago and it was searching for a way in.  He called the dogs up and the animal scarpered.  They do get into some houses though, a neighbour had a cake stolen when she, unwisely, left a window open but went into another room and a second neighbour had some break in while she was away on holiday.  The house was a tip.  All that aside they are amazing to watch, they get up to all sorts of acrobatic feats and interact in the most charming way. 

Monkeys Malaysia
I could watch the monkeys for hours.
This is one of the dominant males.
Monkeys Malaysia
A mother and her baby (young enough to still have blue eyes)

There are, of course animals that I do not relish meeting including the snakes (we had one in thegarden a few weeks ago and I was very pleased when the dogs chased it away) and the ticks.  We seem to be going through a particularly bad tick season at the moment – I always remove them when I feel them and I do a thorough skin check on a regular basis as well as treating the dogs with anti-tick preparations.  They seem to get a foothold (or should that be mouthhold) despite all these efforts and the other night I removed more than 26 of the blasted things.

The communal gardens are full of fruit-trees, many of our neighbours
collect the fruit (we don't as we are not long term residents so feel it
might be a little rude).
In the grand scheme of things they are minor irritations, however, and I think that, of all our experiences in the peninsula, I will miss these walks more than any other.

Click on the picture for more posts about Malaysia

Ersatz Expat

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


21 November 2015

Things To Do In KL - Colonial District, Central Market And Petaling Street

The Central Market and its surrounding area is one of the main tourist hotspots in the city but this does not mean that they are not worth exploring for a few hours. 

Merdeka Square KL
Spot the flag!
Malaysian cities with their high kerbs and poorly maintained pavements are not renowned for being pram friendly (it must be near impossible for people in wheelchairs).  Having tried it once or twice and almost died of a heart attack I now do not go out on any pavement based walk with all three children on my own.  It is simply too challenging to wrestle a pram up and down the kerb while holding the handbag tight enough to deter pickpockets and keep an eye on Master and Miss EE who have to walk holding hands behind me because the walkways in the 5 foot way shops are too cluttered with wares for them to be able to hold on to either side of the pram.  Not to mention having to walk in the road at times constantly worried that one of the children will be hit by an inattentive driver.  Instead experience has won out and I now behave like a real wimp and wait until I can rely on the services of another adult to share the pram wrangling and hand holding duties.   

Colonial KL
The colonial buildings have hardly changed at all
With that in mind, the area between Central Market and Petaling street is not too bad, mostly because it is so busy that everyone walks in the road and cars take that little bit more care, and, a big plus, there is parking at the Central Market which means that there is no need to wrestle with the KL transport system, fine on your own, a nightmare with a pram.

KL Rivers Jamek Mosque
The embankments could be beautiful but are, for the present,
an underutilised part of the city (Jamek Mosque in the background).
The Market is very close to Merdeka (Independence) Square and the colonial district and it can be quite fun to take a short walk over to enjoy the buildings, look at the flags and try and get the children to identify as many Malaysian states as they can.  The streets are now very busy but with a little imagination it is possible to imagine what this part of the city was like in the past with its distinctive Moorish style buildings.  This part of the city sits on the confluence of two rivers the Klang and the Gombak.  The embankment could be beautiful but it is not and has been very little cared for in recent decades.  It looks as though that will change in the future, however, and not before time because at the present they are eyesores. 

KL Central Market
Central Market And Outdoor Stalls
The Central Market itself is an Art Deco building that was designed as the wet market for KL.  It was converted, about 30 years ago now, into a centre for arts and crafts.  Various streets within the building are dedicated to crafts from different Malaysian ethnic groups and there are plenty of shops selling batik, clothes, t-shirts, cheap souvenirs, silverware and pewter indeed just about every form of Malaysian souvenir you can think of.  One or two of the shops do sell antique items but they stock a lot of rubbish so be prepared to rummage which is, of course, all part of the fun. 

KL Central Market
The inside is beautifully designed and shops are grouped by ethnic theme
There are plenty of places to get some food including a Secret Recipe (they do the best cakes in Malaysia) and a reflexology spa where you can get the pain of sightseeing rubbed out of your soles.  Pretty much everything on sale in the market can be bought cheaper elsewhere but the atmosphere is fun and it is a convenient place to shelter from the rain if It comes.  The newer ‘annexe’ houses a lot of artists whose work is original if, for the most part, mediocre.  Outside there are plenty of places to sit down and stalls to sell snacks and fresh fruit juice.

KL Petaling Street
Petaling Street is decidedly less manicured than the Central Market
but is a lot of fun.
Chinese New Year Decorations
Decorated for Chinese New Year
A short (but busy) walk down the road will bring you to Petaling Street the bustling centre of KL’s Chinatown.  This is a popular draw with tourists and the trade here is lucrative with pitches being very much coveted.  It was the site of some inter-ethnic protests a few months ago but things have since calmed down. Stalls selling just about every knock off good you can think of line the street, come here for all your ‘fake designer chic’ needs.  The buildings themselves are home to more substantial shops or restaurants.

Garlands and Bamboo
Garlands and Lucky Bamboo

Sri Maha Mariamman Temple
Can you decode the meanings of the statues?
It is worth taking a walk down some of the side streets and take in the frontage of the impressive Sri Maha Mariamman Temple and try to decode the various scenes from the Ramayana that are depicted by the statues on the sumptuous gate.  The road to the temple is lined with shops selling flower garlands and fruits to be given as votive offerings to the shrine.   Very close by you come to the Kuan Te Temple and, a short walk further down the street, to the See Yeoh temple which are cool and welcoming in the heat of the day as well as being interesting in their own right. 

Fresh fruit and juice is available everywhere.

Having done all this there are plenty of restaurants to choose from for a well deserved refuel.  

Click on the picture below for more posts about Malaysia.

Ersatz Expat

18 November 2015

Protected From Everything But Learning Nothing

This is the first part in a collaboration between this blog and the lovely Mr EE who, aside from being an expat parent himself, is also an  expert on education for expat children both in a wide range of different international schools and in boarding schools in the UK.  He writes extensively on education and we thought we would republish some of his work here in a new section of the blog in the hope it will be of interest to other expats searching for the right schooling solutions for their children.  

We are aiming to publish some original articles aimed more towards the needs of the expat parent so if you have any requests for future articles please let us know through the comments below or by email to ersatzexpat@gmail.com and Mr EE will do his best to accommodate the request in the future.

Protected From Everything But Learning Nothing?  Why Schools Must Embrace, Not Avoid, Risk.

Modern schools have become highly risk adverse environments, a trend which has been building for some years.  Both in and out of the classroom, our students are being presented with as risk-free an environment as possible, a place where they are highly unlikely to be hurt, physically or emotionally, and face few consequences for their actions which actually matter.  This has caused noticeable changes in the now-expected appendence of schools, such as redesigned playgrounds with soft-fall surfaces, anti-scratch railings and few moving parts, or the proliferation of marked tripping hazards on stairs.  Perhaps more insidious is the change in the culture of many schools, where competition against peers, whether academically or through sports has become less and less common: everyone is encouraged to ‘be a winner’, regardless of actual achievement.  But does a childhood spent in such a controlled and artificial environment provide the exposure and experiences which let students learn the lessons that will enable them to function effectively as adults in a globally mobile, competitive world?  Is this cushion from reality actually harming our children’s development?

Ersatz Expat - Education Risk
Play that is too safe is not satisfying for long.
An increasing body of research and opinion would suggest that the answer to this question is yes, and that this conclusion has its basis in neuroscience.  Advances in neuro-imaging techniques show that experiences of all kinds alter the physical structure and pathways of the brain, so it is fair to say that experience affects the brain but equally, the brain affects experience.  Worryingly for our children trapped in the risk-free bubble, early deprivation can limit cognitive and emotional potential, whilst positive, attuned stimulation enhances the individual’s potential.  A child with limited exposure to risk and challenge when young will be find it harder to cope with the challenges of a normal adult life, leading to anxiety and depression, whilst over exposure can be equally damaging in creating a thrill-seeking daredevil who pushes themselves to dangerous extremes in order to stay sane.  Aided by our experience and knowledge of child development, phycology and neuroscience, it is entirely possible for schools to help guide children towards the goal of becoming thoughtful and considered risk-takers, rather that falling to the extremes of the risk-adverse or adrenalin junkie.

Risk-taking is a key developmental factor for any child, and schools need to understand its significance as a teaching experience for students.  Via the modelling, nurturing and teaching of good attitudes towards risk by adults, children will be better prepared to meet life's challenges.  Positive risk-taking behaviour involves actions or activities which, precipitated by consideration and thoughtfulness, provide a step towards the transition point between safety and danger.  Risk-taking, like other skills, needs to be learned and practiced over time, and can be summarised down to four essential steps outlined below:

  • Identification: of the nature of the risk, be it physical, emotional, social or intellectual
  • Awareness: of potential benefits and dangers and the range of possible actions
  • Consideration: thinking through the impact of one's actions
  • Evaluation: reflecting on the impact after the decision has been taken.
If we accept that striving to become risk-aware is part of child development and thus within the remit of a school's operations, then how can the school learn to embrace rather than reject risk in a practical fashion?

Ersatz Expat - Education Risk
Don't wrap your children in cotton wool!
Aldo Leopold believed that ‘it must be a poor life that achieves freedom from fear’.  This statement followed the impact of one of the formative events from the end of his childhood.  One of the most influential scholars in the field of American environmental and wilderness awareness, Leopold advocated that all young people should spend some time in the wilderness, to experience a time when their own choices and mistakes may really matter.  Outdoor or Adventure education is one of the more common elements of risk education found in schools, although the degree of access that children have to it differs widely with the type of educational establishment.     Many of the characteristics of this type of education differ considerably from the common experience of the classroom.  A great many of such activities are voluntary, take place outside the normal timetable and location of the school and the journey (often literally) towards an outcome can vary dramatically.  A successful and well-planned adventure education programme will provide a series of opportunities for children to face progressively more significant challenges appropriate to their age and experience.  Challenge must be by choice, but the opportunities must be provided.  Expeditions may vary in terms of duration, environment or distance from home.  If done well, all should provide a step further on the child’s ‘adventure career’, providing opportunities to develop the skills and self-confidence in a guided and considered manner until the degree of supervision is so light as to be barely noticeable.  The desired culmination is that students are entirely capable of assessing and coping with the risks inherent in wilderness for themselves. 

Exposure to a sense of adventure should start young, but need not take place away from schools; in fact, for the very young, it is perhaps better it does not.  Play provides opportunities for children to learn self-regulation of their own emotions and behaviour: those deprived from play opportunities show little ability to do.  Normal patterns of play and the locations where it takes place need to provide opportunities for children to consider and take risks.  Often, when a group of children play in a planned playground, the strongest child becomes the leader, whereas in a natural or unstructured setting such as woodland, the more inventive and intelligent child comes to the fore.  As before, the desired eventual outcome of play is independent activity, where they children have the space and parents have the bravery to let their children go and experience the world for themselves.  Control over this aspect of their lives helps children develop the skills of teamwork and leadership.  The degree of adult control and supervision must reduce, slowly but inevitably, to allow the children more freedom to manage and control themselves and their relationships. 

Ersatz Expat - Education Risk
Risk comes in many forms
If a school is to provide genuine access to risk on a daily basis, it must translate into classroom practice and methods of student learning.  A risk-friendly classroom is not defined by a teacher-centred carousel of pedagogical techniques, however, but the opportunity for the children to take risks with their learning.  This requires the teacher to lead and role-model an atmosphere of mutual respect where both the level and gaps in the knowledge of the students on any given topic are viewed as triggers for learning rather than reasons for ridicule.  As the students strive to develop understanding, they must be encouraged and given space and time to explore, enquire and find their own solutions, all in an environment where they feel able to make mistakes.  The learning outcome of such a risk-friendly environment is greater levels of creativity, ownership and motivation amongst students, where they have scope to innovate rather than simply follow instructions.  Students will be disinclined to take risks if they feel they will be punished for failure or humiliated in front of their peers.  Indeed, the atmosphere of respect must extend to and from all members of the class if individuals are to feel free to take emotional and intellectual risks in front of their peers, but genuine growth will only occur is this is so. 

Ersatz Expat - Education Risk
The right school will encourage your child to take a leap.
Developing our understanding of the processes of risk and risk-taking behaviour allows us to facilitate the growth and development of our children.  The outcomes are considerable.  As a result of such risk-aware guidance, students will be more adept at seeking challenges, taking opportunities and resilient to disappointments.  In particular, risk-aware individuals are more tenacious in the face of failure due to a past history of surmounting small setbacks, guided by parents and teachers in how to tolerate, reflect and learn from them.  Learning to take considered risks in childhood prepares children to perceive issues of safety and danger with greater accuracy and respond appropriately.  Furthermore, they are also better prepared to think independently.  Students who are able to risk disagreement with others and explore conventions whilst maintaining their own perspective risk the denigration which is likely following any challenge to orthodoxy.  Children still need very clear boundaries on what is legally and morally right and/or acceptable.  However, children and young adults who think for themselves, acting from a position of consideration, thoughtfulness and in time, conscience, will find that their risk awareness is a key factor in developing lasting confidence with lifelong importance. 

Originally published October 2015

What do you think?  Have you noticed differing attitudes to risk between schools in different postings?  Does your current school have the balance right or do they need to improve their attitude to risk?

Click on the picture below for more posts on Expat Education

The Ersatz Guide To Expat Education

Posted as part of the monthly Expat Life Linky posted by the lovely Amanda Van Mulligen

Expat Life Linky