The St. Andrew’s Ball….and fall

Heidi and I were invited to the St. Andrew’s Ball…our first “high society” invite. Now a ball is not something a woman can prepare for last minute….NO, it takes planning and preparation. There is the dress to buy, and not just any dress…NO, it has to be a gown! Allie accompanied Heidi to the Pavilion Mall with the goal of finding said gown. Found a gorgeous blue one at the first shop they entered. Of course, no gown is complete without a purse… they came up with a nice little black clutch with a little bling. Allie was disappointed that Heidi didn’t select the bag with silver spikes, a skeleton head and a built-in glove for your hand that looked a bit like brass knuckles!!! (Wish we had a picture of that one) Shoes…nothing in Heidi’s size but luckily she had a pair with some small heels that would work. Then there were the nails, and the hair, and…..well, you get the picture. For me, I pulled out my wedding/funeral suit and was ready to go.

The ball was held in one of the big ballrooms in the DoubleTree Hotel…pretty fancy spot. Well over 300 attendees…we mingled about the foyer sipping on wine, munching of crackers, chit-chatting, until the pipers marched through the crowd and led us into the ballroom. Our table, lucky number 7, came with accessories…4 bottles of wine, a bottle of whiskey, and two bottles of champagne. The first course, Tartar of Tomato and Avocado served with a salad of baby lettuce, mint scented young peas and apple and celeriac slaw. Translation: a small bit of guacamole dip with tomatoes on top with some other vegies scattered around the plate for looks. (It was very tasty…just not much of it!!!) Next came the HAGGIS. But before the haggis could be served, there had to be the Haggis Ceremony. The piper led in several women carrying bottles of whiskey to the front of the dance floor. There on a table was HAGGIS. You may ask, what is Haggis?
Direct from Wikipedia: Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours.

So, there on the table was a large stomach filled with Haggis. The Chieftain of the St. Andrew’s Society addressed the Haggis with a Robert Burns poem, ODE TO HAGGIS. It is quite a lengthy poem of which he had memorized….when he came to this verse:

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reeking, rich!

He took out his knife, with at least an 8 inch blade, and sliced the haggis several times, allowing the simmering innards to escape from the stomach lining. Very appetizing, wouldn’t you say? After the poem, we stood and made a toast to the Haggis. The pipers then led the ladies with the whiskey out of the room. Almost magically, waiters appeared carrying platters of Haggis, along with Neeps and Tatties (mashed potatoes and turnips). Heidi passed. Rami passed. I had to try it…at least a “no thank you helping”. My neighbor at the table, a lovely elderly woman (she and her husband own a huge tea plantation) gave me directions. She said, “I can’t stand the bloody stuff unless I cover it up with whiskey. The more whiskey you add, the better it tastes.” I added whiskey. Let me tell you, there was not enough whiskey at the table to make it taste good…but I mixed it with the Tatties and was able to get it all down. Haggis has been added to my “tried it/don’t like it” list alongside durian and lutefisk.

The main coarse was Pan-roasted chicken breast stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese accompanied with potato gratin, market vegetables and sauce Diane….well done, delicious. Dessert brought us warm tropical almond crumble with peppered frozen yoghurt ice cream and berries stew, followed by coffee, petit fours and Scottish Tablet. After several more toasts, it was time for dancing.

First a group of children from the finest school in all of Kuala Lumpur, The International School of Kuala Lumpur, entertained the crowd….we were quite proud of our kids!!! They left the stage and the “Fantastic Rusty Nail Celidh Band” took their place on drums, fiddle, accordion and guitar, the Scottish music began and the dancers took the floor.

Heidi and I had planned on just watching the festivities. Unlike many of the others who either grew up with Scottish jigs or who recently took lessons, we knew none of the steps. But the Scots are a friendly bunch so Scotsman in kilt grabbed Heidi and a lovely lass grabbed me, and onto the dance floor we were led. The first dance you start side by side and the woman does these spins, you come back together, the woman does more spins, and so on. Well, before the dancing began, the women all changed into their dancing shoes…flat little things, no heel at all. The Scotsman who grabbed Heidi, just assumed that Heidi had on her dancing shoes. He was expertly guiding Heidi into one of the many spins when her heel caught on the carpet and CRASH….down they went onto a table number 9, knocked over the champagne and ice bucket, broke dishes, etc. I looked over to see my lovely wife on the floor in some pain. She badly sprained several fingers on her right hand. Quite traumatic. Her partner also hurt his hand, cut it on one of the glasses….but the ball must go on. We helped everyone to our table, the waiters cleaned everything up in wink of an eye, the band continued playing and the dance went on.

Heidi recovered nicely and wished it had been recorded….might have gone viral. So we left the ball behind, took a taxi home and iced her hand till she fell asleep. Thus completed our first ball. Quite memorable. Our only regret…we didn’t get to take the whiskey home!!!!

On The Way to Work + FOTW

When we eventually come home, we will miss many things here in Malaysia….$4.00 first run movies at the theatre, the friendliness of the people, the warmth, the beaches….but one thing we will not miss is the driving (and monkeys). We’ve mentioned driving before on our blog but after our drive to work today we couldn’t resist sharing what we see on a typical morning drive to school. Heidi kept the tally on her phone….here goes:

1. One motorcycle going the wrong way on a one way street. Just drove right by us without blinking an eye.
2. Two garbage trucks stopped in the left hand lane, not on the shoulder, but in the lane. This on the freeway. Didn’t look like they were even collecting trash.
3. Three cars running red lights at the first intersection we came to….not talking about just when the light turns from yellow to red, we’re talking about cars stopped at red and dashing across when they think they can.
4. One very large bus tailgating a small economy car, less than two feet away, doing 90 kilometers per hour. Car wouldn’t pull over, bus wouldn’t back off….not sure who won…they were going a lot faster than us.
5. One school bus, with children inside, driving down the freeway with NO lights. This is at 6:30 am, completely dark outside.
6. One motorcycle running red light and then hopping onto the sidewalk to continue journey.

To top it off, a commercial came on the radio. A cute little jingle: Red. Red means STOP. Red. Red means STOP. When you come to a red light you gotta stop. Red. Red means STOP!

You know it’s bad when there are commercials asking you to obey the rules. I’m hearing that KL driving is quite pedestrian compared to other Asian cities like Dehli or Saigon(Ho Chi Minh
City). Should we ever visit, we will opt to walk.

Fruit of the Week
This fruit is rather dull and unattractive on the outside, but looks can be deceiving. You peel away the outside with a sharp knife and you reveal a soft, succulent flesh with a honey, brown-sugar flavor. You see this fruit often carved into decorative shapes at buffets. Heidi and I still prefer a nice bunch of Wenatchee cherries or blueberries right off the bush.

Bangkok – Cabbages – Condoms – And More

“Travel is very subjective. What one person loves, another loathes. I would say a private paradise in the Caribbean. If you want culture and class, I would say Tuscany. If you want exotic, I would say Bangkok, Thailand.”
-Robin Leach….Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Bangkok….whoa, what a city!!! It’s HUGE…spread out over miles and miles (that should be kilometers and kilometers). It’s CROWDED….over 11.5 million people in Bangkok proper, huge traffic jams, apartments on top of apartments. It’s BUSY…seems to move in a frenetic, excited pace all the time. Doesn’t slow down, day and night, crowded sidewalks, elbow to elbow, traffic snarls, tuk-tuks puttering about, long tail boats scooting across the river. It’s EXOTIC and ENCHANTING…from the red light districts to the Buddhist temples. Floating markets, silk sarongs, silver works, foot-massages to mouth-watering aromas of coconut pancakes being cooked in an oil- filled wok. The sights, smells, and sounds of Bangkok are like no others we have experienced.

Stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok. Not exactly roughing it…a five star hotel right on the Chao Phraya River…has won numerous awards…Travel and Leisure Magazine: Best Hotel in Thailand and Top Ten Spas in Asia…. Conde Nast Traveler: Gold List Property…and many more..all well deserved. Our conference was here and our school contingency all booked rooms. About 1300 attendees at this EARCOS Leadership Conference. EARCOS stands for East Asia Regional Council of Schools. They put on a yearly leadership conference in the fall and a teachers’ conference in the spring…they happen to both be in Bangkok this year…next year in Kota Kinabalu. They also sponsor numerous workshops and trainings throughout the region. The conferences are every bit as good as anything you find back in the states….many of the same speakers plus the benefit of tapping into leading educators from Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, UK, etc. Rick Wormeli was one of the key note speakers this year. If you haven’t seen his “Sound of Music” bit, check it out on YouTube….he is very entertaining, motivational…not a lot of meat to his talks but you leave smiling.

First night we arrive we took a long walk…no destination in mind, just meandered about soaking up the flavor of the city. Shop after shop we passed selling jewelry, eating utensils, gems, tailored suits, etc….all in tiny little shops. Heidi found a nice pair of silver earrings costing 950 baht. We settled on 600 baht…about USD $20.00. The local school let out while we were walking…quickly surrounded by throngs of kids all dressed in their school uniforms hurrying to get home…some chatting away, others plugged into their phones…hopping on busses, tuk-tuks, water taxis…looking very happy the school day was done…just like home! For dinner we found this hole-in-the-wall restaurant….would have walked right by but noticed a few tables on the sidewalk with customers chowing down. Snagged the last table and proceeded to enjoy the best Thai food we have ever experienced….had phad Thai with chicken, green curry, red curry, stir fried vegetables, a very spicy-hot rice dish, and for dessert, fresh sliced mango and sweet sticky rice. All this washed down with ice-cold Singha beer. Last stop before bed, a foot massage….one heavenly hour for 300 baht…about $10.00. This ranked right up there on our list of the finer things in life. Soft music playing, you settle into soft cushioned recliner chair once your feet have been washed, scrubbed and dried. And then these most experienced (and strong) hands start to massage your feet and legs up to your knees. It is VERY hard not to drift off to sleep. At the very end you’re given a shoulder, neck and head massage…just that final gesture to ensure you will return. (Which we did!!!!). We slept like babies that night…despite the fact our King Size bed was Asian hard. They seem to enjoy the extra, extra firm mattresses here…forget about pillow-top. I’m guessing they don’t have a problem with kids jumping on their beds.

Ate at Cabbages and Condoms Thursday night….our Head of School treated all of us…it’s one of her favorite spots here in the city. When we first heard about this restaurant, we thought we heard wrong…cabbages and condoms? For dinner? For real!!!!
It turned out to be a truly unique dining experience, and the food is “guaranteed not to cause pregnancy”. In addition to creating fine food, the establishment was opened in an effort to raise awareness and combat Thailand’s prevalence of HIV. You dine under light fixtures made from colorful condoms. There are mannequins adorned with condom attire. Everything is condom themed and instead of free toothpicks as you leave, grab a condom or two of your choice. They even have these large wooden plywood condoms with a hole cut out for your head…..okay, this is not sounding right….see the pictures instead of me proceeding with this description!!! A portion of all proceeds go to the Population and Development Association… an organization which addresses primary health care, family planning, and HIV/AIDS prevention, education and care. Overall the food was just okay, perhaps it was the fact we didn’t order, instead just ate what came to the table….wouldn’t have been our choice. Had more fun in the taxi driving home counting the red lights our driver went through…NASCAR should look this guy up!!

The next day the sessions ended early so Heidi and I rented a long tail boat for an hour. These boats are amazing…long and thin powered by a massive engine that turns the propeller at the end of a 20 foot shaft. They literally scoot across the river and throw up a nice little rooster-tail. So fun to see life on the river…little boys jumping into the brown, muddy water to cool off, men an women fishing along the banks, a monk meditating on a sea wall, and temples every quarter mile or so including one with a massive reclining Buddha statue. The river can be as crowded as the streets of Bangkok. Tugs dragging five or six massive barges, dinner boats , long-tail boats, water taxis, recreation boats…all competing for space and somehow avoiding crashing into each other.

Before we left on Sunday, we decided to walk in the opposite direction from the other day…the shops were all closed down but in their place was stand after stand selling fruit, savories, spices, fish cooking over hot coals, on and on. We found one stand frying up bananas…sweet and warm served on a wooden skewer for $.03 oh my goodness, when I retire I’m opening a fried banana stand…I’ll be quite content eating my profits.

Similar to our trip to Singapore, we only got a snippet of this city. Didn’t have time to tour the grand palace or the floating markets We never made it to a Thai boxing match, the red light district, missed the girlie-boys and ping-pong shows (don’t ask me to describe the ping-pong shows…you’ll have to look that one up yourself!!!). We need to come back when we don’t have a conference. Like most large cities, it is rather noisy, polluted, crowded….but you get a sense of the country, the friendliness of the people…we will return for a little more time in Bangkok but we long to get into the countryside and enjoy the beaches.

In the five days we were in Bangkok, not a drop of rain fell. Returned to KL and was greeted by the weekly 100 year deluge….torrents of rain, thunder, lightening….someplace here there must be an ark!!!!

A quick note about Malaysia Air….on the two hour flight to Bangkok (and also on the return) we were given a FREE meal, free drinks (soft drinks, juice, wine, or beer), blankets, and movies….remember when we used to get this service on the US carriers?

A little video on Bangkok.