Festivals, Friends and the Fantastical
We have been nothing short of busy and first up was the arrival of a dearest friend of mine for a few days break from the UK. What better timing than to coincide with the Penang celebrations of Thaipusam.
Thaipusam is a dramatic and colourful festival, celebrated mainly by Tamil Indians to the Hindu God Murugan. A status of Lord Murugan is lifted onto a silver chariot in the early hours, and led in procession to the Nattukotai Chettiar Hilltop Temple at Waterfall Road, Penang Botanical Gardens. Make-shift stalls line the roads with fruits, sweets, buns and rice for devotees. Thunderous loud music, singing, dancing and the beating of drums can be seen and heard far along the procession route.
Devotoees make offerings to Murugan and if their prayers are answered they demonstrate their thanks through vows of ‘bearing burdens’. Burdens, known as “Kavadi”, vary from carrying milk to offer Murugan, to heavy wood placards, walking barefoot or the notable body skewering and piercing.
If you’ve been following Sunflower Journey for a while, you will appreciate the uneasiness of all this felt by the boys. I didn’t question why I continued to share this with them for they have to grow up accepting people for who they are.
Having a best friend in town was a heady mix of sightseeing, gin, eating, and talking. In fact all of the above.
We walked, drank beer (sod the indigestion), took Dim Sum for breakfast and traditional Chinese coconut tarts for tea, Clan Jetties Chinese Settlements and the Tropical Spice Gardens of Batu Ferringhi.
Now the latter is perhaps to be our lasting memory. We had a fairly agreeable tour of the spice gardens and a fabulous lunch at the Monkey Tree Thai resturant. We had planned the remainder of the day for relaxation, but it was not to be.
After lunch we climbed back into the car and I noticed my cooler flask on the floor behind the seats. In a bid to be different from the average January dieter, you may remember I signed up for a 30-day green smoothie challenge and alas remnants of couple of days prior were locked inside, gradually heating hour by hour. The top was tight but with a bit of muscle power I attempted to loosen it releasing the building pressure inside. To our horror the flask ruptured and a massive grey vapour explosion left us green, scared out of our wits and firmly believing we’d been shot. I totally expected to see people running to rescue us but alas no, this is Malaysia.
We recovered ourselves quickly but in the process realised the plastic ring from the flask had managed to shatter the windscreen. Alas the remainder of our was lost to a full windscreen replacement in a dingy part of Georgetown, becoming several hundred ringgits poorer and having a friend rescue the boys from school. I haven’t taken a green smoothie since.
It has been a week of the fantastical for the car was not to be my only hiccup along the way. Having given up all my cash for the windscreen replacement I stopped by the ATM for a cash withdrawal. Yes, you dread it every time, and it happened, broken ATM claiming to have given me money when it actually hadn’t. The bank accepted they had a faulty machine but were at a loss as to how to deal with my predicament until I personally skyped my bank from my mobile. Indeed, this is Malaysia.
I have been fortunate to have secured another project this past week so once the girlie time came to an end it was back to claiming every hour I could to frantically complete the work. J has settled well to his work but we miss him, Big O particularly has shed many a tear. Distance makes the heart grow fonder and we are all excited to have him return at the weekend. Once Daddy is home it’s party time, and although our Sunflower Journey is about cultural stimulation blah blah, it is also very much about knowing how to pour Mummy’s Martini and Daddy’s beer. I am pleased to report they are exceptional students.
We have had yet more visitors with Cousin B taking a detour from work in KL to join us for the weekend. I secured vital produce from the wine shop and our Home Bar was open for business once again. We spent two wonderful days moving at a slow pace between the apartment and other local eateries, filling the hours with fab conversation and the general companionship that comes of being with family. A good trial run for the arrival of Mum in just a day or so.
As we finally relax into the half-term break, school has gone well albeit rather fast. There have been many dress-up events, all of which are a challenge when you are living out of a few suitcases. Book week was a case of matching one of our few books with the existing wardrobe (and the purchase of a few easy props) and voila – TinTin and Where is Wally.
I have made a point to remain a tourist, to not take what I know for granted and to keep a curious eye on what else there is to discover. With Chinese New Year now upon us, there has been plenty of excitement in town and all sorts of stalls adorned with bright boxes of orange, firecrackers, lanterns an array of intriguing colorful foods. A friend and I took an organised tour of one of our local markets to see speciality treats and discover new tips, tricks and produce I had never noticed before.
Chinese New Year has been a big focus at the school with many class activities focused on learning the traditions and festivities of this important festival. The end of the half term was marked with a full morning of celebrations at school for the children, from painting Chinese letters, to dragon dancing, drumming, martial arts and traditional foods.
Life has been good to us in Penang and still we pinch ourselves that we are here and having this opportunity. As we return to the normal weekly cycles of school and work we realise the enormity of 2014. Breaking free from the day to day, ditching the careers, the house and many possessions I appreciate was indeed impulsive.
We have each had dark days, but this was an inevitable part of the process. Our weeks in Cambodia and beyond were rich with life lessons, travel and a personal journey we may never fully comprehend or be conscious of. There are no regrets, but I have to be honest, this has been far from easy. The hope, humour and dignity of the Cambodian people trivialize all these times and I know their smiles have etched a place in our memories forever.
Next steps? For now our next steps are slow. There is a fork in the road but we are not quite there yet. We will take time to, and there is still time to consider which way to go.