Last weekend, the Gustavus students traveled to the small village of Kota Aur (on the mainland) for a weekend homestay with local families. Joel and I discussed the trip with the USM administrators before the students arrived. We all agreed that with me being nine months pregnant, it probably wasn’t wise for our family to stay there, so far from our preferred hospital and doctor. So we made day trips (a little over an hour’s drive) to the village each day, while the students slept overnight in the village. It made me feel a little self-conscious about the extra treatment; I don’t think that pregnant women get so many accommodations in the U.S. I certainly appreciated it, though!
When our USM bus arrived in Kota Aur, the community had a big welcome for us. Young students from a nearby town were dressed in traditional clothes and performed hand drums as we walked the path to the village.
We were greeted with food (always, in Malaysia!) and hot tea. It felt good to eat something after our long bus ride. Then the students were paired with their “foster parents.”
After that, we hopped back on the bus for a busy itinerary of sightseeing for the remainder of the day. The first stop was at a nipah plantation. The nipah palm is native to mangroves in this part of the world and is cultivated for many purposes. It’s an unusual tree, as the trunk actually grows underground, in the thick mud of mangroves, and only the leaf fronds are visible. The palm fronds have long been used for thatching roofs and making baskets. But there is also a food use: the large flower clusters can be tapped for their sap, much like maple trees. You can drink the sap-juice; it’s a bit like coconut water. But with its high sugar content and the intense heat here, it turns to alcohol within days. And if you wait a little bit longer, the alcohol turns to vinegar. The farmer was selling bottles of vinegar, so I bought some. I’m not quite sure what we’ll do with it yet.
Our next stop was the famous “whispering market.” This is a fish market, where fishermen bring in their daily catch to sell. Normally, the fish would be sold by auction or by bargaining over a set price. But at the whispering market, they have a different system. A seller places a quantity of fish out to be seen by all the prospective buyers. Then, one-by-one, the buyers whisper their offer into his ear. He announces the high price, and the fish are sold to that customer. It’s basically a sealed-bid process. Apparently this market is a one-of-a-kind place; I found it really interesting.
Joel went nuts with the chance to play marine biology prof for the afternoon. He soon had permission from the buyers to wade into piles of fish and was giving an impromptu fish anatomy lesson to all of the Gusties (most of whom aren’t science majors). Simon wanted to be just like Daddy, and the fishermen were very kind to let our little boy grab and manhandle the fish they were trying to buy or sell.
We had a deliciously lunch at a local seaside cafe, and then I made the decision to head home. Sometimes traveling with a 3-year-old means you have to miss out on some of the fun, and I knew Simon was hot and tired and would need to go home soon or melt down. USM had sent a private driver just for this purpose, and so Simon and I said our goodbyes and headed home.