Friday, April 4, 2014

Monkeys Watching Trains

4 April 2014

First, let me say that we were not the tourists kidnapped from the dive resort over near the Malaysian state of Sabah.  We've read alerts from several countries suggesting that this type of activity, while not common, is also not entirely unusual.  So we've given Sabah and Sarawak (and the nearby islands) a pass, despite the fact that Jacques Cousteau has named the area some of the best diving in the world.  Yes, we're sorry to not dive there.  But we're also of the age to heed warnings that kidnappings have occurred more than a few times in one area.  So, breathe easy, we won't be in that area.

We left George Town and Penang today, taking the train back to KL for a few days while we decide where to go next.  This is a more difficult decision than it seems - do we head to Melaka (Malacca), another UNESCO World Heritage Site?  By train or car or bus?  Do we head to the east coast and the small villages and towns over there?  Do we take the train south to Singapore, just because we can?  Do we head south and then east into the Cameron Highlands?  Hmmm, so many choices!

Anyway, the train was nice, although early (leaving at 8 AM, which meant leaving our hotel by 6:30 AM - I'm not a morning person) - but that meant we travelled the route by daylight.  The topography of Malaysia is similar to Thailand: flat land for several miles from sea inward, and tall hills in the center of the country.  We were able to see the hills, or highlands as they are called here, in back of the various agricultural ventures - fields or orchards or plantations of bananas, palms, maybe nut trees, interspersed with rice fields.

As we're speeding along (as strong as a locomotive), I'm busy looking out the window, photographing the landscape, watching people working the rice paddies, or in amongst the trees, checking out the architecture - and all of a sudden, I spy a medium size furry animal on a fence post!  It turns around, sits down, and as we speed by this animal looks right at me - a monkey!  A monkey, who looks like he plans to just sit on the fence post and watch the train go by!  Of course, I'm all excited and tell Richard, but by then we've passed Mr Monkey and Richard can't see a thing but more trees.

I keep looking out the window, hoping to see more animals in their natural habitat, or at least adapting to the habitat humans have built around nature.  

Malaysia has something like ten or twelve different kinds of monkeys.  Some 210 different mammal species.  Scientists estimate that Malaysia contains 20% of the world's animal species, and has some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet.  

So yes, there are still Malayan tigers roaming those hills and the forests.  Also leopards!  And clouded leopards!  Of course, they didn't show their faces.

There are still herds of wild elephants roaming around - and we read about a deadly accident where a car struck an elephant at night, since the driver didn't see the elephant in the dark - I believe everyone in the car died, as well as the poor elephant.  So I'm glad our train didn't meet any elephants.  (Thailand had to enact laws prohibiting people riding elephants into any of the cities - one was hit by a bus, and was mortally injured.  I know, these are things you don't think about if you don't live here.)

Anyway, I continued to look out the window, checking each river we crossed - and I swear, in one river, rather than seeing crocodiles (yes, they live here too), I saw three monkeys sitting on a small mud island close to the riverbank.  Weird, I know.  Mud baths aren't just for people anymore?  I'm not sure if monkeys fish.  But they definitely were monkeys.  On an island of mud.  In the river.

So, most of today's photos focus on funny foods we've encountered.  Now, I don't mean to make fun of anything.  Some of what we find funny is that the true name was lost in translation.  Some of what we think is funny is basically that we don't know what it is.  For example, what is Tiger Char Koay Teow?  I know that koay teow is a noodle dish, but is tiger really used in this?  Charred tiger meat?  I hope not!

The bright green chicken dim sum was very tasty - but I'm not sure how natural that bright green was.  It just surprised us.

HiGoat?  Meaty and milky?  Yes, they are.  Goats are also cute.  And while I've eaten goat meat, and I've had goat cheese, well, I'm not sure I want to be reminded how cute goats are.  And say Hi, goat.  While, eating it.  (Thank you, goat! might be more appropriate.)

The donuts are from an American chain of donuts (you know the one) - the happy faces start looking like Big Bird.  Some of the chocolate-covered donuts have gummy worms in the center.  (Would you seriously buy "wormy chocolate" donuts?  Does this name entice you?)  Donut basketballs?  In honour of March Madness?  

NO idea what the colourful twirly thingy is - it was just pretty.  The name gives us no clue as to what it is, what it might taste like.  This is part of the fun of travel, trying new foods - but, well, I'd like to know if this is sweet or salty or cheese-flavoured or what.

Chicken sausage donuts.  No thank you.  A little cup of corn with your BBQ pork hum bao?  No thank you.  Luridly coloured macaron cookies?  Trendy, but no thank you.

The best has to be the dark chocolate race car.  A thing of beauty, almost to amazing to eat.

And then there are the puzzling menu items:

  - Chicken jock.  What exactly is chicken jock?  Better yet, what were they trying to say?  (Closest I could come was chicken hock, as in chicken feet??)

  - Hail-boiled eggs.  Yes.  Truly.  Hail-boiled eggs.  (Okay, so someone tried to spell "hard" with a Malaysian accent.  Which doesn't have the hard R sound of North Americans.  But hail-boiled eggs sounds so much better.)

  - Deep fried sunshine beef.  Or pork.  Poetic.  Full of vitamin D.  What exactly is sunshine beef?  Or pork?  Inquiring minds want to know.  And have absolutely no idea what this might be.

  - Lasagna Al Porno.  Truly.  That was on a menu.  I know, either a typo, slip of the pen, something.  Not funny in a language other than English.  Hysterically funny in English.  I didn't have the heart to point out that Al Porno was not an Italian cooking method.

So yes, we manage to have fun.  We laugh a lot, often at ourselves as we stumble and bumble our way through SE Asia.  

And we'll keep you posted on what's next.  Whether or not we were chosen as extras for the TV series.  Whether we're heading south or back north to George Town.

Life is exciting in Malaysia!


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