Tag Archives: homestay

You Say Merang, I Say Marang

We came back to   mainland a day before the Gusties, who were still camping at Mak Kepit on the west side of Pulau Redang.  We needed accommodations and since this happened to be the national Labor Day holiday weekend, lots of places were booked.  I finally found a homestay near Merang, which seemed to be reasonably near the jetty where we were to meet up with the students the next day.

Millbrook Farm Homestay

The place is called Millbrook Farm Homestay, and it was fantastic.  I wish we could have stayed for longer.  We were met by Ella, whose family (parents, brother, uncle) all own and manage the facility.  It has just six rooms now but they are building six more.  The farm in the name is not what you think, but actually an aquaculture facility, a fish farm.  Needless to say, Joel and I were delighted to take the tour with Ella’s brother.  Did I mention the whole place is also right on the ocean?  With views like this?  

View from our front porch at Millbrook Farm Homestay.
The aquaculture facility, right behind our room.

In addition to tilapia, which are a major food fish, this family is trying to raise fish for the aquarium trade.  They have one large tank of brightly-colored koi.  And the bulk of their tanks were devoted to raising different types of arowana.  These large freshwater fish are considered a lucky species to a lot of Chinese because they resemble Chinese dragons.  They can grow quite big and an individual fish can sell for hundreds of dollars (US).
Trying (rather unsuccessfully) to hold an eel.

Ella’s daughter, Bella, is five years old. She loves horses and unicorns and My Little Pony. So Ella drove us all to the nearby stables, where horses are kept for polo. For 5 ringgit, Simon got to ride a horse around the ring. An ever-so-slightly older boy accompanied him.  

Bella was shy when we first met her but soon she and Simon were running around the hotel, playing and laughing. It’s not often that I see Simon actively trying to impress other kids and if I didn’t know better, I’d say he was flirting. “Bella! Listen to me sing this song!” “Bella! Look at this drawing I made for you!” It was adorable. 

SBella was also quite fond of Penelope.  The kids spent the rest of the day running around the property.  There was so much laughing, giggling, and scheming.  Simon was in absolute heaven.

Look at Bella’s beautiful henna! Ella asked to do Simon and I was like, “No way that kid can sit still long enough for it to dry!”

Ella and her Uncle Denny were incredibly accommodating. They took us out to dinner at a delicious Chinese restaurant and to the only ATM in the region. And the next day, they offered to drive us to the jetty to meet up with the students and catch the bus home.  

That’s when we discovered that I’d made a little mistake, you see.

It turns out that Merang and Marang are two different cities, both on the coast in Terengganu State, about an hour’s drive apart.  The jetty is at Merang.  I inadvertently booked our room at Millhouse Farm Homestay outside of Marang.  In my defense, Malaysians seem to be fast and free in their spelling.  Take for instance, the popular noodle dish, char koay teow. Otherwise known as char kuey teow.  Or char koay tiao.  Or char kway teow. Or chow kuey tiao.  I mean, come ON.  If Merang and Marang are both going to be cities in the same state, along the same coastline, and reasonably close to one another, you’d think someone would make a big deal out of that on the travel sites, no?

Now, I don’t regret it at all, because Ella, Bella, and Denny were delightful company and I only wish we’d had more time to spend together.  But our hosts truly went out of their way to take us all the way from Marang to Merang, an hour-plus of driving.  We ate breakfast together before my family boarded the Gustie bus to Penang.  Simon and Bella hugged goodbye and we invited them for a stay in Penang.  I don’t know if it’s likely, but it would be fun.


Kota Aur: Homestay Weekend

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.


Cute kids.

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.”  


Second breakfast!
Noodles, curry dumplings, and the green thing is a confection called “kuih.”
Meet your new 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.

This is a nipah flower cluster. They get even bigger and are very heavy. The plantation own cuts off the seed head and collects the sap in a plastic bottle.


Tasting nipah juice.
Nipah vinegar for sale.

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.


Whispering at the market.
Loading up fish that have been purchased.
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.


Non-biologists always look a little confused when Joel starts talking about fish.
Digging into the fish pile.
Many students had never seen a horseshow crab before. Yes, Malaysians eat them!
Simon wants to be like Daddy.
Getting silly.
These are the fishermens’ boats. Similar small boats can be found all over the world, and are the way that much of the world’s population acquires their dietary protein.
The guy in orange really liked Simon. Every time they walked by, he handed Simon a different fish.

Oooo, baracuda…
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.  

All of the Gusties have been so gracious and patient with our little person. I am so grateful to them for their kindness.
Fish for lunch!
 Joel stayed with the class for the rest of the day’s activities, so I’ll have to let him tell you about the boat ride, the ancient ruins, and all the other cool stuff they saw.