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Authentic Malaysian

Spending some time with the fam

semi-overcast 90 °F

Auntie Soo grew up in Malaysia and Uncle Charles has lived in Kuala Lumpur for the past 12 years, so while staying with them in KL we’ve been able to get the inside scoop and juicy gossip on the locals. They have also been extremely gracious hosts, giving us the royal treatment by chauffeuring us around town, taking us on road trips and giving us help with planning the next phase of our trip through SE Asia.

KL used to be entirely jungle, but is now overrun with palm oil plantations and large apartment complexes. We are taken back with how many high buildings and apartment complexes there are here, but with speculation and investments going sour we were told that the vacancy rate is about 50% with some apartment buildings obviously vacated. There is a stark contrast between vacated buildings and the tallest twin structures in the world (The Petronas Towers).

Malaysia is a melting pot of Chinese, Indian and Malay. With the Muslim Malay in control of government, there is an eerie call to prayer broadcasted 5 times a day throughout the city. We learned to avoid the Malay restaurants if we wanted a beer with dinner and were impressed to see prayer rooms available at gas stations and in the middle of jungles. We spent some time visiting a Hindu Temple in Batu Caves, the Jamek Islamic Mosque and a Chinese Tao Buddhist temple to get a closer look at the local religions.

In order to reach the Temple in Batu Caves, visitors must climb 227 stairs that are guarded by cheeky monkeys that attack tourists for food. We of course came in appropriate running attire and ran multiple sets past the ‘normal’ tourists still trying to get up for the first time.

We also ran through the KL Lake Gardens, and visited the butterfly and deer parks, which were okay for a run but glad we didn’t go there for a tourist walk since they weren’t of much interest. As with many places in Malaysia there is a huge problem with littering and the overcast sticky heat makes all the buildings look old and weathered, but not in an interesting/historic sort of way. We took a short trip out of town to the FRIM (Forest Reserve Institute Malaysia) where they built a jungle canopy walk where you could see the contrast between the untouched beauty of the jungle and the sky scraping city in the distance.

For Robin’s birthday, we went up to the revolving restaurant at the top of the KL tower for afternoon tea. Although it started to piss with rain right when we got there, we still managed to get some great views and took this panorama to point out where we were staying with Uncle Charles and Auntie Soo.

In addition to tea at the top of the KL Tower, Kevin surprised Robin with an Authentic Malay Cooking Class that was taught out of a home in KL. In the class we made prawn fritters, beef randang, spicy cucumber salad, and XXXX. It was our first cooking class and we had a blast with the mini woks and personal sized stoves.

This Lunar New Year has been a special one with the turn to the year of the dragon b/c it’s the only mythical creature in the zodiac. The Lunar New Year decorations have been quite spectacular with all the towns dressed in red lanterns, dragons and slews of special tidbits (cookies, snacks and soft jerky) being sold. The hashers lit off books of fire crackers to start their runs and hosted gigantic feasts afterwards. All the shops offer free ‘gung hay fat choi’ oranges and the malls are done up with extravagant details with special performances of traditional drums and dragon dances. The amount of decoration, folklore and tradition is equivalent/comparable to the Christmas efforts we are used to in the U.S. and spending time with family is a big part. We were fortunate enough to attend a New Year dinner with Soo’s entire family who were all in town for the holiday.

The Malaysian Chinese have a fun confetti like way to kick off the meal; it’s a dish called Yee Sang (which translates to Raw Fish) that was an exciting treat for us. It is a raw fish salad with colorful sweet noodles that is tossed on the table by everyone using their chopsticks. We were told that the higher you can drop the food onto the plate, the better fortune you will have in the new year (+1 for being tall with long arms).

We are now headed out for a road trip to the highlands and are looking forward to some low humidity mountain fresh air :-)

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:04 Archived in Malaysia Tagged tower kuala new year cooking chinese lumpur kl sang yee Comments (1)

Holidays in the Southern Hemisphere

A Strharsky family reunion in Perth (minus lil D)

sunny 90 °F

Christmas without a yule log just isn’t the same for those who have lived in the northern hemisphere; however a white [sand] xmas was just as well since we spent most of the holidays on the beach and we still had Christmas crackers (w/ crowns) and played “pennies up the bum!” Deciding upon xmas meals was a challenge to say the least since baking all day in +90F weather isn’t so desirable. We settled on a cold pasta salad with shrimp (aka prawns) on the BBQ to simulate a Christmas Eve Merkel tradition. The highlight on xmas of course was Kevin’s mom’s cinnamon rolls and cookies that were made without cup and teaspoon measurements.

Just in case you were wondering, Santa still wears his North Pole gear in 90F weather and christmas trees still grow in the concrete jungle shown in these pics we captured earlier on our trip:

On Boxing Day, we watched the Sydney to Hobart sailing race start and day one of the India vs. Australia first test match. We also managed a lovely bike ride around Perth before heading to Fremantle and the Little Creatures Brewery for some well-deserved brew (turns out starting a brewery in OZ is a good idea since you can charge twice as much for beer that has half as much alcohol).

We spent Harry and Loretta’s last night in Perth with some lawn bowling, which proved to be a wonderful way to be outside, drink beer, play a game, and have a lot of fun. Lawn bowling is a bit like Bocce Ball or shuffle board, but the balls have a weight bias to them so that they curve instead of travel in a straight line.

On New Year’s Day, we partook in a long standing Aussie tradition by heading to the Perth Cup for some horse racing! Despite the hot, sticky weather it is custom to get pissed (drunk) in the most fancy outfit you can find (think prom or English wedding). We met up with some locals for a champagne brunch (eggs and bacon on the Barbie of course) before dressing up and heading over to the races. In below picture you’ll get a glimpse of Robin in her first fascinator (the feather like hair piece). Although we did not win big at the races, we discovered how to place different types of bets and had a great time cheering for our horses.

After the races, we headed back to Cottlesloe Beach with Justin and Anya for some R&R, sparklers, skinny dip, and bubbly of course!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 06:45 Archived in Australia Tagged new years holidays bbq eve Comments (1)

Working on a Farm

5 days on Te Rohenga Farm between Levin and Shannon on the North Island

rain 55 °F

Fortunately for us, a family connection accepted us into their home for a few days and we learned all about the different varieties of sheep and farming practices in New Zealand. Our bedroom overlooked a paddock (pasture) of sheep which dramatically lifted the ‘sheep I win’ game to a whole new level. The unusually wet weather for this time of year limited most of our time to taking down electric fences, feeding the deer, moving mobs of sheep, and herding cattle from one paddock to another… but fortunately we had a break in the weather for a solid day of lamb docking and a foggy morning of worm drenching. To spare the gory details, look up ‘lamb docking’ and ‘lamb drenching.’ The lambs we had to carry were only about a month old but had the strength, size and weight of an English Bulldog. They have all formed strong bonds with their mothers and follow them around everywhere, constantly calling out to each other when separated (we have a video of lamb calls if anyone needs a new ringtone, sweet as).

The farm is the 2nd oldest Registered Perendale breed Stud farm in NZ and covers over 2,000 acres and has about 8,000 sheep, 450 cattle, and 70 deer (which will increase to 100 once the fawns are born next week). The farm is a wee midsized farm compared to the large farms in the En-Zed (New Zealand) but seemed humongous to us. It took our hosts (Heather and Rob) three poster sized topographic maps just to show us all the land!

Also very interesting was that Rob kept a clear line of genealogy for the animals to avoid inbreeding and show authenticity for the stud (pure breed) Perendale. We learned more and more everyday about how little we know about farming and are extremely impressed with how efficiently the farm is run with just a father and son duo and a few hired hands when needed. The biggest eye opener to us was that livestock farming is actually all about harvesting and nurturing grass. All the animals graze on picturesque green grass and the paddocks are rotated to give the grass a chance to regrow. To keep the grass at the optimal height for sheep, Rob puts about a dozen cows in each paddock to keep the grass from over growing. Conversely he lets the grass get nice and tall in the red deer paddock so that the deer feel more comfortable giving birth under cover of grass. This tall grass is then harvested green and stored in sealed plastic bails to be fed to livestock in the winter.

Each farmer has at least 2 dogs, a ‘speaker’ that uses barking as a tool and a ‘seer’ that uses glaring and approaching as a tool. Each of the dogs had their own specialty and were a total highlight to watch! They made mustering the mobs on a steep grade, possible and enjoyable. The oldest and smartest dog we met (Evo) was smart enough to tackle a lamb, pin it on its back and hold it in place for one of us to come pick it up. All of the dogs were absolutely knackered when we used them for docking and totally deserved their big chunk of sheep reward.

We also accompanied Rob to an agricultural and pastoral show (similar to a County Fair, but in the countryside). Rob brought some of his studs to the fair and won first and second in the hogget competition for Perendale sheep. We saw some of the best local sheep shearers, who can amazingly shear a whole sheep and end up with a full body ‘rug’ in 45 seconds…. a task that would probably take us an entire day. Sheep shearing and wool handling are way harder than they look and are prized skills; if you are good enough you can tour the world off of competition prize earnings. Pictured below is a perfect wool toss and the junior sheep shearers.

Our stay on the farm was short, and definitely leaves us interested in more, perhaps another farm stay in Australia or England… maybe on a lifestyle block in the future? Now it’s off to Christchurch to meet up with Damon, Justin, and Anya for our South Island campervan adventure.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 16:12 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sheep new zealand farming shearing Comments (0)

North Island Campervan Adventure

inside a two berth fully contained modified ford wagon

After a few days in Auckland, we settled into our two-person campervan and took to the road with our duty-free Fijian vodka. Note: people drive on the left-hand side in New Zealand AND the driver sits on the right side and shifts with LEFT hand! After a week on the road we can now safely say that we are on the left hand side of the rode most of the time. And luckily, the kiwis have already realized how confusing this is to the foreigners and have constant road markers that say “stay to the left.” Which is a pretty polite way of saying “you are most likely driving on the WRONG side of the road right now.” The “Cow I Win” game quickly turned into “Sheep I Win” and only lasted a few minutes each day but was still a pretty exciting way to start the day.

Our first stop along our week-long adventure on the North Island was to the quaint town of Coramandel up on a northern peninsula. We took the scenic drive along the coast and arrived in time to catch the world cup rugby semi-finals match in the local pub. The next morning we headed over for low tide at hot water beach. At this beach, you can dig a hole and create your own hot tub, or you can make friends with the locals and share/ take over someone else’s hot water bath (without a shovel, that is what we did). The water temperature was no joke and if you didn’t watch your step you were risking a serious burn!

You may have heard of Tauranga, because it is one of the towns along the Bay of Plenty, where a large oil ship called the Rena hit a reef and is causing a HUGE environmental impact. We ran to the top of a mountain in this city called Mount Maunganui and could see the ship far off in the distance. The locals we chatted with were in good spirits but still quite pissed at the whole situation and hope the ordeal makes its way into NZ election talk. Along the beach, we were surrounded by army and navy personnel in white suits and boots collecting the oil deposits on the beach, and they told us that it was really hard work getting the beach reopened and they were just hoping the tides wouldn’t shift and re-soil the beaches they just cleaned.

We found out we were in the kiwi fruit capital of New Zealand when we saw a giant kiwi fruit on the side of the road. We stopped at the gift shop and sampled some wine, liquors, juice, and chocolates all made from kiwis. It was fitting that we had made kiwi pancakes for breakfast that morning.
Animated Kiwi Test

Animated Kiwi Test

We headed south to Rotorua, which has the most geothermal hot spots (literally) of the entire country. Rotorua smells JUST LIKE a wastewater treatment plant (lots of sulfur)!! You can fart at anytime because the air smells like farts already. Much of the city is geared towards tourist attractions, but we found some beautiful walks and geothermal sites in the Government Gardens and Kiwainis Park.

We ventured into Tongaririo and Whanganui National Parks to check out some the amazing beauty everyone raves about in NZ. This was when we started seeing the legendary film sites in movies like Kong and Lord of the Rings. We hiked between “Mount Doom” and “Mordor” in hopes to stumble across some 10 sided dice, but found a waterfall in some fog instead. The scenic drive along Whanganui River was similar to the Yungas road that we biked down in Bolivia, it could easily be “the most dangerous road in New Zealand” because it is narrow, along a cliff, unpaved, and has frequent logging trucks along it. We survived and had a great time, despite an absolute downpour along half of the drive.

All in all we loved our little van and had an awesome time, but unfortunately the way of the wayfaring free camping in NZ is almost over. City limits are off limits for even self-contained (with toilet) vehicles, and info sites are discourage camper vanning with the recent restrictive laws being passed. We are now in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, and home of one of Kevin’s friends, where we plan to rest, do some laundry, and have a real shower for the next few days prior to our stint on a sheep farm.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 21:21 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new zealand campervan Comments (1)

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