Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Not another holiday post

I've already done, what is it, four or five posts on our holiday and I've only reached day 6 of our 25 days. I'd better keep interspersing it with little gems like this: the day we set off on holiday I received a rejection email.

I suppose if you've got to be rejected pre-holiday is as good a time as any giving you something else to take your mind off constant failure. That was my final attempt out of that bombardment: time to begin again now.

You'd think it would be quite simple but while each agent requires more or less the same thing (up to 3 chapters, a synopsis, a bit about the author) the way they phrase it means you have to adapt your submission a little to suit each time. Hey ho, that's next on my list. Well, perhaps after make cup of tea and sample date flapjacks.

Speaking of food I must tell you I am on a diet (yes, again). Post holiday I knew it would be bad and just how bad made me determined. In a week I've lost one and half pounds, which isn't as much as I was hoping for but better than nothing. Or putting more on.

Also looking back to pre-holiday posts I have to report that Uncle is still in hospital. There is nothing more they can do for him i.e. he's not going to get any more mobile, so he can be discharged as soon as he has a suitable place to stay. He's decided, following advice from the occupational therapist who went to see his house, to sell it and buy an apartment in a retirement village. There's also a nursing home on the site so he can buy in a package of care as well and it seems the village has quite a community spirit so we hope he'll be happy there. He is very sad about selling his sea-front cottage but resigned to it.

His cleaner has already done some packing for him: she particularly requested to be allowed to pack up the alcohol and she informed him, 'You know you have four bottles of pastis, don't you?' Not to mention several bottles of champagne. 

Husband meanwhile is investigating wheelchairs. The internet is a wonderful thing for research: he will soon be Mobility Man!

So life was busy before we went on holiday and it doesn't look like getting any easier now we're back!

The fishy feeding frenzy

We'd gone prepared for mosquito attack.

Before we left Husband, after careful internet research, visited the chemist and bought out the shop: we had two spray cans and two roll-ons (for our faces). Better to be prepared we thought.

As it turned out the mosquitoes were few and far between. So far between that Husband decided that the chemical effect of spraying ourselves liberally with the anti-biting-stuff would probably be more harmful than any potential bites. 

What we hadn't gone prepared for fish bite.

The first time Husband jumped and said a fish had bitten him I laughed and said, 'How bad can a fish suck be?' I changed my tune when they turned on me.

At one point I had a leg covered in fish bites. They'd even broken the surface and drawn blood. Before you start worrying I should explain that these weren't sharks or anything even quarter as big. These were smaller than a hand-size fish and it was the way they crept up on us and sneaked in when we weren't looking that really upset me. I spent much time hopping around and yelling at my attackers.

Younger Son explained it's the fault of tourists, as so much is even in these remote islands. They feed the fish to see them swarm around, and that encourages a 'If you're not going to feed me I'll eat you,' attitude on the part of the fish.

And to think people pay money in this country to sit on a stool and stick their feet in a tank of fish. 

I thought it was for religious reasons that the Muslim girls wore head to toe clothing when swimming but maybe they knew about the fish

When I wasn't trying to avoid vicious fish I had a brilliant time snorkelling. I've always refused to snorkel before because I was convinced I'd breathe in at the wrong time or panic, which I did on occasion when water got in my mask or snorkel, but I did almost get the hang of it and was thoroughly glad that I tried. 

It's difficult to squeak excitedly when you're using a snorkel. But not impossible.

I saw:
giant clams, schools of needlefish, sea cucumbers, groupers, a blue-spotted ray, a bumphead parrotfish and numerous species that no-one had yet identified. At least not from my descriptions such as goofy-toothed fish and yellow black and white stripy fish and one that looks like a bit of rock.

My favourite was the moon wrasse (left, not my photo), which incidentally, I'm informed has an excellent sense of smell and can change sex.

And, of course, the male greenback turtle who even came to the surface very close to us. A turtle project based in the Perhentians asks tourists to send in their photos of turtles who all have individual markings. If a new one is photographed the photographer gets the chance to name it. Younger Son and Nuora have named one Cariad (sweetheart, love).

Getting back to unpleasant chemicals, just before we landed at Heathrow on our return the captain announced that the cabin crew would be coming around spraying something - I didn't catch the whole message but did hear him suggest that we kept our eyes closed for 30 seconds. At least that's what I think he said: I seemed to be the only one closing my eyes (and peeping obviously). 

It had been a long over-night flight so it might just have been deodorant.

Who'd be a demonstrator?

Hearing all this talk of a strike and  peaceful demonstration by junior doctors reminded me of an incident from my school days.

The fourth and fifth forms had been gathered in the gym for a careers talk - I suppose it would be called a seminar now. I recall that I was sitting near the wall bars. The speaker - not one of our teachers - asked if we knew what a demonstrator did. I muttered to my friend that they marched up and down protesting; this was the 60s after all and we were living through flower power.

Unfortunately the speaker then picked me out and asked me what I'd said.

Now understand that I was a shy little thing who wouldn't open her mouth under normal circumstances. I'm shy now but then I was painfully timid and to be picked on in class let alone a room of 250 girls was my worst nightmare. I remember stuttering something like, 'they demonstrate,' for which I was further humiliated by the speaker for using the root word to explain it.

These things stick in one's memory.

Now I have to wonder why a careers expert was advising grammar school girls, some of who were undoubtedly Miss Brodie's 'creme de la creme', to aspire to the heights of hoover or food mixer salespeople.

I'm pleased to say that the only demonstrating I've done has been against a variety of wars. Unless you count the times in the kitchen when I've been 'Nigella' for the benefit of the imaginary camera. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Resistance is futile

I did surprisingly little reading over the three and a half weeks of our holiday but I did get into my kindle and find it fine. 

I was in the middle of Elizabeth is Missing when we set off. A woman with dementia is convinced her best friend has gone missing and her erratic thoughts help her to find the answer to a much older mystery. It's very well written and a disturbing insight into the mind of a person affected by degeneration of the brain. *****

That was the only paperback I took with me but as I wanted to read on the beach I borrowed one form the collection of left-behind books in Tuna Bay Resort. Given it was the only book in English in the library I didn't have much choice but to take Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan. I wouldn't have chosen it normally but I quickly found myself liking the narrator, who incidentally is dead. And I enjoyed the first half of the book but then it went a bit crazy and I got bored. It's the only book I've read by this author but from what I've read of her other books some at least would have a similar fantasy-like quality. ***

Then it was on to the first of my kindle reads, Girl on a Train, as recommended by Furtheron. Now this was a good book. Excellent very flawed characters, lots of red herrings and a satisfactory conclusion. *****

After that fairly serious and dark novel for my next selection I opted for Resistance is Futile by Jenny Colgan. From the blurb I expected the sort of humour you get in Big Bang Theory; I was disappointed. And when it went off into the realms of sci-fi I was really disappointed. Also it was in need of a good proof-reader. (Husband picked up lots of mistakes in my book, This Time Next Year, after I'd published it but this proves even the professionals with proper agents and publishers don't always get it right.) **

Finally, Curvy Girls Club. This seemed to be uncertain whether it was motivational book for fatties, a health awareness campaign, an executive manual or a romance. Mildly entertaining. ***

The chilli factor

We returned home to find a glut of tomatoes and chillies so today Husband spent his time making spicy tomato chutney and chilli jam. And stinking the house out in the process. But he tells me no-one else can make chilli jam as good as his.

I think it was his way of dealing with Wales' victory over England (25-28 at Twickenham in the World Cup). Which incidentally may not have been the best game of loose-flowing fast-passing rugby but it was certainly one of the most tense. 

And I tried very hard not to gloat. But when I was in bed in the dark I couldn't stop the huge grin that appeared on my face.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Roy the thieving sea eagle

When Roy the sea eagle fell out of a tree and got into a fight with a monitor lizard some of the water taxi drivers looked after him and Tuna Bay resort even gave him his own room. Now he's recovered but still lives in his room and is fed by the boatmen.

One day Roy dropped in on us on the beach.
All was fine until a small crowd gathered and began taking his photograph. And Roy took a fancy to one man's camera in particular and began to stalk him.

Perhentian Islands part 2

Focusing on all things yummy.

Our first night on the island and we were treated to a Blue Temple barbecue with volunteers, guests and Delilah of course.

A few days later we dressed up in sarongs especially for a traditional Malaysian meal in the home of Kak Ani. (Kak is a form of respectful address used by younger people when speaking to elders so strictly speaking we shouldn't have used it for our hostess.) Kak Ani welcomed us into her home where we sat on the floor and ate a delicious meal with our left hands. 

We enjoyed: squid and beans, fish-stuffed peppers (I really liked those) (well, actually I liked everything.), sweet and sour chicken, spicy beef, noodle soup and rice, followed by pancake and coconut and mango)
On our last day we ate lunch at Kak Ma's restaurant. At 44 ringgits for 6 people it cost just over £1 per person and was again delicious.
The lovely Kak Ma
It cost a lot more (and didn't taste any better) on the couple of occasions we ate dinner in the resort restaurant. 
Although the waiter couldn't get over how much we ate ...

On one occasion Younger Son cooked for us and I accompanied him to the local Tesco Express to buy the ingredients he needed.
The flash makes this interior view a lot brighter than it was in reality.
Award for favourite afternoon snack has to be the doughnuts cooked by the women of the village in the co-operative cafe they have opened. Although the red bean and fishy doughnuts were good the sugar-coated ones were still the best!

I think a sweet tooth is a peculiarly Malaysian thing. Traditional coffee in Malaysia is made very strong with condensed milk. An acquired taste but one of which Husband approved. 

The Perhentian Islands part 1

To begin at the beginning. 

Two years ago Younger Son and Nuora moved out to the Perhentian Islands off the north east corner of Malaysia in order to set up Blue Temple Conservation, a marine conservation project. For the last two years they've had volunteers living and working with them in their home in the fishing village on the small island as they've taught diving and tried to help tourists, divers and the locals understand how they can help to conserve the coral and marine life, upon which a chunk of the income, from tourism, now depends.

We decided against staying with them - something to do with the lack of proper toilets, hot water, and air conditioning - but from where we did stay, Tuna Bay Resort, we could see their village across the sea and it was about a 5 minute ride in the taxi.
The islands are basically two large lumps of rock covered in jungle forestation with one village and a few beach resorts scattered around the edge. There are no roads so the only traffic is the very occasional scooter and the many water taxis.
That's the village you can see opposite with its brand new mosque on the outskirts.
Add caption
The home of Blue Temple Conservation
On the street where they live

A granny's a granny wherever she is

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Our amazing adventure in SE Asia!

Which should perhaps more accurately read, 'Our amazing tour of posh hotels in SE Asia.'

Please note, here begins my account of our fabulous holiday in Malaysia and Vietnam. Now we all know how boring it is hearing about other people's holidays so feel free to not read these posts but I want to write them so I can look back and say, 'Oh yes, that's what we did/where we did it/what it was like.'

The first two nights of our adventure were spent on the move, in an aeroplane and on a coach. Let me tell you that National Express could take a lesson from Malaysian coaches. We were sitting downstairs and it was like a little cwtchy nest, with comfy spacious seats. 

By the time we finally arrived at our first destination, the Perhentian Islands off the north-eastern coast of Malaysia we were fair dinkum worn out following a journey that involved: taxi, coach, plane, train, coach and ferry. But it was worth it. Here follows a brief run-down of hotels and views from our rooms.

Unfortunately the only photo we seem to have of our island resort is this one, which includes Younger Son (not a problem) and was taken - unintentionally - on creative mode setting on the camera (slightly more of a problem).

Husband hadn't been able to book a beach front room so instead we looked out onto the jungle and monkeys.
TunaBay resort wins the award for best view at breakfast.

From the Perhentians it was off to the Grand Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in south Vietnam.

The breakfast buffet was the hugest I have ever seen but The Grand takes the award for the best smelling foyer. I don't know what it was but it was lovely.

And then to the Royal Hotel Hoi An. 

Incredibly helpful smiling staff who couldn't do enough for you the Royal, in spite of some stiff competition, wins the award for the biggest bed.

The hotel in Hue was misleadingly named the Saigon Morin. No, I don't know why.

The Saigon Morin wins the award for the best swimming pool. Mainly because it was the only hotel pool we used. I also had an amazing massage there, probably the best and definitely the cheapest I've ever had (not that I've had that many).
The trees in the background provide some shade in the open-air courtyard breakfast room, which was rather lovely.

From Hue it was off to Hanoi. Here we were based in the fabulous old town, a place I loved it was so full of life and vitality.  We stayed at La Siesta, a lovely hotel with attentive staff and a less than impressive view from the room!

The award for the hotel who gives a gift to its visitors on departure goes to La Siesta.
(The fact that I spent the entire homeward journey wondering if it was stuffed with drugs and expecting to be arrested at any time does not take away from the niceness of the gesture.)

We're getting near the end now. A coach picked us up from La Siesta and four hours later we arrived at Ha Long Bay, named as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Our accommodation for the next two nights was on board this Garden Bay junk, the Marguerite.

The Marguerite wins the award for the best vegetable cutting demonstration.

After another brief respite in Hanoi it was back to Kuala Lumpur for one night before we flew home. We spent that night in the Majestic, a hotel that dates back to 1932 and still retains its colonial feel, right down to the door men in their pith helmets and the serving of afternoon tea.
The first real rain of our holiday slightly spoiled the view from the room.

Again in spite of strong competition the Majestic wins the award for the poshest of posh hotels!

All our hotels were wonderful: Husband did a brilliant job of booking and planning the whole trip. And I'll be saying lots more about it as the days/weeks go on.