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A Tour of Georgetown and Chinese New Year Celebrations

It’s been a busy weekend.  I’m really tired.  Simon is still asleep at 10:30am, so I’m guessing he is too.  The students, who are still adjusting to the time change, must be even more so.

The USM buddies planned an outing on Saturday to show off some of the neat sites of Penang.  Our family accompanied them as the students walked around the Botanic Gardens.  Simon was in a really great mood and managed to avoid the cactus garden this time, so hey–we’re getting better at this!


Friends at the Botanic Garden.



From there, we went to the Clan Jetties.  These jetties have a really interesting history.  In the late 19th century, many Chinese immigrants were arriving from Fujian Province, seeking work and an escape from the poor living conditions in their homeland.  (Note: Fujian Province is the northern neighbor of Guangdong Province, where we were living.) The men who arrived organized themselves by their originating villages and broad family groups.  The men labored as dock workers and, hoping to send as much money home as possible, they were looking for cheap real estate.  Rather than living on land, they expanded the piers and built small homes and shanties on stilts above the water.  Eventually, the men had enough money to send for their families and the jetties became homes to entire communities.  Six clan jetties–still bearing the names of their founding clans–still exist.  They are still used as residences but the piers are open to the public.


Simon took a liking to Afi, one of the USM Buddies who has been so kind to him.


USM Buddies.


Age of the Selfie.


After the jetties, we were hot and hungry.  We walked into central Georgetown, to the Little India neighborhood, and had a fantastic lunch at The Woodlands, a vegetarian Indian restaurant.  The people at my table ordered a bunch of dishes to be shared, and we all walk edge away, sated with delicious new foods.
In the evening, I invited the Gusties to join us as our family was headed to Georgetown for Penang’s official Chinese new Year’s celebration.  Many of the small streets were closed to traffic.  Big displays were set up around town and there were six stages with a variety of performances being held.

Unfortunately, just as the festivities were to begin, it started to rain.  There would be several cloudbursts throughout the night, just enough to keep us all damp.  Maybe it felt a little refreshing, after walking in the sun all day?


A rainy night.


“Look at all the pumpkins!”

It took a long time for our group to meet up–further proof that in future years, the program should make cell phone communication and transportation arrangements a higher priority.  We’re still learning.  But we eventually found each other.  Our group–the Carlins, the 10 Gusties, and Mindy (a USM buddy)–made our way to the Esplanade, which was the center of the festivities.  Several of us had our pictures taken with our zodiac animals.


Year of the Pig!


Year of the Dog!


I’m the only Horse in the group. And did I mention it was raining?

After that, our family split off from the students.  It was well past Simon’s bedtime but I wanted to stay out to see all the sights.  And he was having a great time, too.  One of the stages had a youth group performing traditional Indian dances.

Indian dancers.


They were followed by what had to be the highlight of the evening for me, the diabolo performance.  Diabolos are sometimes called “Chinese yo-yos.”  There’s a piece of string with two wooden handles.  Then you balance a double-coned yo-yo on the string and keep spinning to keep it balanced.  We saw them when we were in Chengdu and I was impressed at the time, but this was incredible.  Every time I thought the performers were on their “big finale” act, they came along and did something even more impressive.  I don’t often post videos, but these are too cool not to share:


It’s worth saying that they make it look easier than it is.  I’ve tried one of these before, and I couldn’t even keep the cones balanced on the string for 10 seconds.  Afterwards, Simon walked over to the troupe and picked up one of the yo-yos.  The leader of the troupe helped him spin the diabolo!  He was so excited and proud of himself.


Very proud of himself.

From there, we caught an Uber cab home.  It was after midnight and our kiddo was still awake.  We stayed up just long enough to get notification that our students had arrived home safely and then we fell into bed–we still had a busy Sunday ahead of us.


When Monkeys and Cactus Attack: Life Lessons from Penang Botanic Garden

When Monkeys and Cactus Attack: Life Lessons from Penang Botanic Garden

Our family made an outing to the Penang Botanic Garden on Saturday.  This is a large urban park in the foothills of Penang.  It pops up on all the lists for tourists in the area, and with good reason.  Our family was happy to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city and escape to a place where the loudest sounds were insects buzzing in the trees.

We took an Uber car from our apartment and the driver warned us of the monkeys.  Anyone who has traveled in eastern Asia knows to be wary of monkeys, at least the semi-tame ones that frequent parks, temples, and other tourist attractions.  In general, the monkeys are not outright aggressive, but you simply can’t carry food or drinks in their presence or they will snatch it from you–and you risk bites or scratches in the process.

Don’t be fooled by cute, grizzled appearances.

We had only started on the first path when I saw a woman carrying a plastic sack full of food.  There were monkeys ranging about and I thought, “Hmm, maybe the monkey threat here is overstated.”  No sooner than I had that thought, and a monkey approached her and ripped the bag out of her hand.  The woman looked insulted but was smart enough to not put up a fight. Soon the thief and a half-dozen of his cohorts had shredded the bag and were sampling their ill-gotten goods.  Between this and the accompanying noises–the woman’s daughter crying, the squabbling between monkeys over the food–Simon was pretty startled.


The thief.
I saw the opportunity for a Life Lesson.  I knelt down and hugged him close.  “You don’t have to be afraid of monkeys.  They aren’t going to bother you.  But you must never, ever carry food around monkeys because they will steal it from you.  Do you understand?”

“Yes!” he exclaimed.  “When I grow up, I’m going to be a monkey and then I can steal other people’s food!”

Hmm.  Not the message I was going for.

We meandered around the park.  The gardens are a great place for people-watching: families wandering with their children, foreign tour groups, joggers and other exercisers.  Likewise, the gardens themselves are quite interesting.  There are many small themed enclosures; the fern garden and bromeliad garden were my favorites.  

Here are some bromeliads:



 The morning had started out fairly cloudy and less hot than typical. But soon the humidity was quite high and two out of three of us found it tough going up the hilly trails.  We let Simon lead the way and soon he ducked into the cactus garden.  It didn’t seem to be a good place to play, so I redirected him to the exit.  He was jogging along and not looking at where he was going.  As we tried to walk through the doors, an elderly couple came through and Simon was thrown off balance to avoid bumping them.  Over he toppled, smack into a cactus display.

It wasn’t as bad as you’re imagining.  But you can’t just fall into a cactus garden and come out unscathed.  He had about a dozen fine cactus spines embedded in the palm of his hand.  Joel picked him up and we rushed to the front of the park, looking for a first aid station.  I had hoped for a pair of tweezers, but no such luck.  The two Malay guards at the entrance spoke no English but had a bottle of iodine and some paper towels.  I pulled out the spines with my fingers and we washed Simon’s hands as well as we could.  He was a trooper.  Just a few tears when he first fell down, and then he was a brave boy the rest of the time.


The scene of the incident. Note the small depression in the sand, to the right of the barrel cactus.
No one had the heart for Life Lesson #2.  (Look where you’re going; don’t run in confined spaces.)  But as Joel was carrying Simon to the front gate, he consoled him, “Simon, I don’t like it when you get hurt.”

Simon: “Why?”

Joel: “Because it makes me sad.  I know you don’t like getting hurt either.”

Simon: “But I do like getting owwies.”

Joel: “Why?!”

Simon: “Because if I get an owwie, Daddy picks me up and kisses me and holds me.”

So there’s your tearjerker for the day.  
Simon was feeling OK, so we continued to wander the park for a while.  But by then we were really hot and sweaty and hungry.  We left the park and ate a small Indian snack before making our way to the bus stop and home.


Orchid garden.
At the front of the park, sweaty and tired.