Monday, 24 October 2011

To The Ladybug!

"To the Ladybug!" is a relatively new phrase here in the Lodge household. I shout it every time we all three pile into the car to go somewhere (which is only once every few weeks, so I continue to say it with gusto). Brad would prefer I used a more manly name than "Ladybug," but when we're driving around town in a tiny, BRIGHT red Mazda with black trim, I'm not sure there's a more appropriate label to be found. And besides, Dagny giggles every time I say it, so of course the name is as good as etched in stone.

Brad had to be in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last Monday, so we decided to turn his meeting into an excuse for a little family getaway. It's not always easy traveling with a toddler, but sometimes you have to throw headaches and dreams of "packing light" to the wind and (as Nike would say in all their infinite wisdom) just do it. 

So just do it we did... and in the Ladybug, no less! Some of our friends here thought we were a bit crazy for attempting such a venture, and warned us to take plenty of money to pay off the cops that were sure to pull us over for "undisclosed reasons," but nothing so scandalous took place and I'm really glad we decided to drive... it gave us a wonderful opportunity to see the Malaysian countryside, which is quite a bit different from Singapore. First, Malaysia is surprisingly mountainous in areas. Secondly, there were palm tree plantations stretching over rolling hills as far as the eye could see, which was pretty cool to look at (Malaysia is a major exporter of palm oil).

The traffic was a little different than in Singapore, as well. SO MANY MOTORCYCLES! I mean, seriously, they were EVERYWHERE... zipping up the medians, weaving between cars, buzzing and darting this way and that. And in closer to KL, several stretches of highway had no painted lane lines! Yikes! There were times when we were careening along at 120 km/hour with two cars to our right and two trucks to our left, all merging and angling without any clear idea of who belonged where and just praying all the way that we wouldn't hit any of the motorcycles flowing around us like red blood cells through a vein. 

But Brad did GREAT! In my best Rain Man impression: He's an excellent driver. The trip took about 5 hours in total, including an incredibly long wait at customs, a few scheduled rest areas and one unscheduled stop along the side of the highway to clean baby vomit out of the backseat of the car. Poor Dags-a-roo. Note to self: Never again buy milk from a Malaysian roadside rest stop.

Crossing the bridge from Singapore into Malaysia.

No laughing... I know these are pretty terrible! I kept trying to capture images of mountains, but every time I would try to take a picture with my phone, it would never actually register the shot until a massive tree entered the frame, totally blocking my scenic view!

Palm trees. Lots and LOTS of palm trees.

Palm oil plantation. At several spots, we could see where some of the plantations workers lived... very cool looking shanties on stilts, tucked in among the trees.

Our GPS decided to crap out on us once we reached Kuala Lumpur (which is a very modern and very cool city), so for the final leg of our journey, Brad and I had to set our sights on the impressive Petronas Towers near the heart of downtown, knowing only that our hotel was somewhere close to them, and simply tried to weave our way to their doorstep like a mouse in a maze. It's strange to say, but we actually had a lot of fun that last half hour. Even with a naked toddler in the backseat and trash bags full of vomit-soaked towels around my feet, we were all three laughing and screaming (in a good way) by the time we rolled up to our hotel.

Our hotel. Wow. As it turns out, things cost a whole lot less in Malaysia than Singapore, and Brad and I found ourselves welcomed into the lap of luxury for four days upon entering Traders Hotel (of the very posh line of Shangri-La hotels).

This was the view out our hotel room window. Those are the Petronas Towers... until 2004, they were the tallest buildings in the world. Look familiar? They were in the movie Entrapment, with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones.

The night view. 
"Thank you for staying at Traders Hotel, Mr. and Mrs. Lodge. Would you like a large slice of awesomeness with your stay?" Yes we would, thank you. 

And who could ever leave little Dagny Pie out of "the awesomeness?" That's a MASSIVE playground and splash pad just below us. Spent a good bit of time there.

Dags on the swings. This was just two hours after painting the backseat of the Ladybug a lovely shade of white and tangerine. What a trooper.

Outside of going to Indonesia (which doesn't really count, since Bintan is more or less just a resort island), I've never visited an Islamic country before. It's really quite amazing... I'm not accustomed to seeing religion dictate the everyday aspects of a person's life. Everywhere in KL, the women wore long skirts or pants, scarves and head coverings. Many were dressed in full burkas. One of my favorite moments of the weekend was watching Dagny run around with a little Malay girl on the playground, playing follow the leader up ladders and down slides. The girl's mother stood next to me, dressed head to toe in a black burka. I couldn't even see her eyes. We spoke no common verbal language, and neither did the girls, but we still all somehow found a way to communicate. The mom and I would point and laugh and gesture. The girls hugged a lot. I feel like there's a profound statement in there somewhere, wrapped up in a strange but beautiful moment that I can't really put into words. 

Another Islamic aspect to Malaysia is there is no pork (at least none that is served in any restaurants or local markets) because of the kosher lifestyle and belief that it can contaminate one's body via the air.

But the prayers to Mecca were by far the most amazing aspect of the Islamic culture. While we were playing on the swings our first night in KL, hidden loud speakers all over the city suddenly blared to life, and prayer chants filled the air. It was so amazing, listening to the beautiful sounds while the Petronas Towers glowed silver above us and the sky turned the most fairy tale shade of purple I've ever seen.

Brad noticed the goofy smile on my face, and said, "Enjoying yourself?"

"Totally. I love the prayer chants." He didn't say anything in reply, just nodded and kind of... smirked. 

"What?" I said. "You don't think they sound pretty?"

"No, I do," he replied, still smiling in that cryptic way. "Very pretty."

"Then what?"

"Nothing. I'm just glad you're having fun, that's all."

Well, at 5:00 the next morning (and every morning after), I was jolted awake by that very same, though far-less melodious sound. 

"What the—? What is that? The tv?"

"Prayer chants," says Brad, and even though it's pitch dark in our room, I can actually hear that same smile from the night before in his voice.

"You knew this was going to happen, didn't you?"

"Yuuuuup." (smile... grin... ear to ear... Cheshire Cat style)

We spent Sunday at an incredibly fun place called Aquaria. Dagny's eyes about popped out of her head when we walked inside, and came face to face with a wall of piranha and thousands of other fish of all shapes and sizes.

Dagny and Daddy at the Touch Pools, petting a bamboo shark. Wow, go Dags!

This is actually NOT a beaver! It's a water rat... or for anyone who has seen the Princess Bride, an R.O.U.S. from the Fire Swamp.

Dagny and Daddy popping up inside the sea otter exhibit!

High fivein' a gecko.

"Hello, Mr. Coatamundi. Would you like to come back to Singapore and be my new bedtime snuggle buddy?"

Dagny very appropriately wore her new fish sundress from Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Kim and Uncle Geoff.

The underwater walk.

Dagny didn't say peep (nor did she blink) the entire way through.

Out to dinner outside the Petronas Towers.

Dagny konked out after a long and fun-filled day. She had a new friend from Aquaria to keep her company (and apparently still some ketchup on her cheeks for midnight snacking). How's that for a lady-like pose?

Hmmmm.... What else to say about KL? Not much. We actually spent a good bit of time around the hotel, eating free food and drinking delicious wine that was (gasp!) affordable! We don't have a bathtub in our apartment in Singapore, so Dagny enjoyed multiple bubble baths while we were there (ahhh, the simple pleasures in life). And Brad even treated me to an hour's massage, which was fantastic... nothing like my last massage. I'll admit, I was a little leery upon entering, when instead of asking about any medical conditions I may have, they asked what my astrological sign was so they could taylor a massage to my designated star chart. I actually paused before answering... Should I lie and say Gemini or Aquarius, in hopes that I receive a massage that is soothing, like air or water? Or do I tell them the truth, admit I'm a Capricorn, and hope to the heavens they don't do a "goat prance" on my spine?

I ended up telling them the truth, and the massage turned out just fine. At one point, I actually caught myself drooling and nodding off to sleep.

The drive back to Singapore was lazy and storm-ridden. And uneventful, which was nice. I'm so glad Dagny and I had the opportunity to accompany Brad on his little business trip, but like I said before, traveling with a toddler isn't always easy. And one generally uses the term "vacation" very liberally when doing so. We were all three pretty tired by the time we got home, and ready again for our own beds and, though beautiful, no prayer chants at 5:00am.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

America Seems So Young

Status: I'm missing autumn, especially when I see pictures of my Stateside friends going apple picking or Halloween costume shopping. It's a strange and kind of funny sensation, but I've discovered that my seasonal body clock continues to tick whether I'm part of a seasonal change or not. The weather here in Singapore hasn't changed at all since the summer months, and yet I feel an urge to put on jeans and eat more carbs. Weird.

So I seem to have fallen behind on my posts again... hiccups in the fabric of time seem to be constant anomalies when it comes to motherhood. When I could swear I've been sitting at toddler playgroup with Dagny for the better part of an hour, I look at my watch and realize it's only been ten minutes. And when I think it's only been a couple of days since my last post, I log on to my computer and discover it's actually been a couple of weeks. Oh well. I do the best I can.

Brad, Dagny and I had a great time in Kuala Lumpur the past four days, but I'm actually going to save detailing that trip for a later post. I will TRY to write about it this weekend... yup, sorry... TRY is the best I can do right now!

Instead, I'll play a little catch up by highlighting Dagny's and my Adventure Wednesday trip from last week to the Asian Civilisations Museum (if you make it through the entire tour like we did, you'll see why it topped our "List of Must-Sees"). It was a hot morning, and crazy-humid, so I was a bit cranky when, after two train transfers, we wound up lost. I'm not a fan of iPhone 4, or at least the GPS feature, which is pretty much imperative to my existence here in Singapore. The little locator pin bounces me around all over the city, at one point on our trip even trying to convince me I was standing IN THE MIDDLE of Marina Bay... as in, walking on water. Hmmmm...

But, as I've said before, sometimes the journey ends up being half the adventure. I wander streets I normally wouldn't have found, traverse weird tunnels I never knew existed in hopes of getting someplace familiar, and on occasion, find some truly remarkable stuff. For instance: on this particular trip, I got us crazy lost and ended up cutting through a park where I found this unbelievable tree! I have never seen anything like it before, and Dags thought it was pretty cool, too.

This is called a Cannonball Tree (quite appropriately). The top looks like any typical deciduous tree, but where the branches start, there is an unusual clumping of palm-like leaves, and then even farther down the trunk, you run into above-ground roots. Such a crazy looking tree!

These giant fruits really are about the size of cannonballs, and are very hard.

The flowers of the Cannonball Tree are very fragrant, and are used in Hindu worship.

Finally!!!! The Asian Civilisations Museum.

I've really developed an affinity for Buddhist art since moving here. The Buddhist faith originated in India, and spread to China around the 3rd century BC via the Silk Road. From there, it continued to flourish throughout Southeast Asia, thanks mostly to trade routes. Every region has its own traditions in their depiction of Buddha, which I love. This statue of Buddha is from Thailand and is made of bronze. The "spire" on Thai Buddha's head represents flame of enlightenment.

This is a Cambodian Buddha, and dates all the way back to the 11th century. Naga, king of mythical serpents, is protecting this Buddha from the floods. On this Buddha, the long earlobes and tight hair curls with the protuberance are symbolic of his enlightenment.

On the left is another Cambodian Buddha, which dates all the way back to the 7th century! Dagny and I started a game at this point on the tour... to see if we could find the oldest artifact in the museum. 

These are called Mukhalingam, and they represent the Hindu god Shiva. That is a third eye at the center of their foreheads, and they also have the elongated earlobes and tall top-knot (or jatabhanda) as signs of enlightenment. These have been carbon dated to the 8th century. Sorry, fellas... you were close.

I'm diggin' these gold earrings on the right. Yowsa!

We have now moved on to North Vietnam... it was very cool the way the museum was laid out, with different rooms dedicated to different regions of Asia. Each exhibit opened with a description of what life was like there before, during, and after Chinese influence... everything from writing and cultivation of rice to language and religion.

Vietnamese Buddha.

The multi-armed Quan Am, which is a female version of Buddha that was very popular in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). She had the power to alleviate all forms of suffering.

Hilltribe jewelry from Thailand. Earrings and neckrings with a "soul lock" hanging from them. Silver jewelry was a way of investing a family's wealth to be passed down as heirlooms.

Okay, this guy was seriously cool, and pretty big. It is a Makara processional vehicle (or the head of one). It is a very rare surviving piece from Hindu culture in Malaysia.

These wooden masks depict Aso, a powerful Dayak dragon goddess of the underworld. Dayak Malaysian mothers used to wear these to scare their children into obedience. Hmmm... I wonder if that would fit into my mom's "Parenting With Love & Logic" program. Maybe we could call it "Love & Logic & A Little Bit of Pants Wetting."

Hilltribe headdress. 

Belt buckles! For real! The one on the far right was as big as my midsection. I totally want to go to Texas now wearing one of these, and saunter up to some guy in a saloon-type bar with a giant "Everything's Bigger In Texas" belt buckle on his pants and be like, "You call that a belt buckle? I guess some things are even bigger in South Niam."

Okay, these two pictures are for my loyal guy readers... weapons! Unfortunately it was so dark in this part of the museum that the pics didn't come out too well. These swords used to belong to Sumatran princes, and the keris (the wavy-bladed knife) originated in Java. 

I mean, seriously, how bad a$$ are these things??? I imagine Stephen King's infamous evil magician, Flagg, carrying a keris.

If only you could all see these in person... they stand about 12-feet tall! Dags was totally enthralled (thank goodness... it could have easily gone either way: enthralled or horrified). These are used in the Taiwanese and Chinese Mazu Festivals, in honor of Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea.

And now for the biggest treat of all... the main reason Dagny and I ventured out the Asian Civilisations Museum in the first place. We wanted to view the temporary exhibit of the Terracotta Warriors! Yes, this was beyond amazing, to see up close and personal a little of the astonishingly beautiful and sophisticated art from the very militaristic and highly controversial First Emperor of China.

Everything used to be painted in vibrant colors.

These are all life-sized, and have features of rank and function.

In the four pits at the dig site (not here, obviously), over 7,000 soldiers and more than 500 horses and multiple chariots were unearthed. Again: LIFE SIZED!

So as it turns out, the Terracotta Warriors were the oldest artifacts we found in the museum, dating back to 200 BC. Leading up to them, Dagny found a small Buddha statue from the 5th century, but the room was too dark to get a very good picture. It's funny to think that one day, Dags will go on a class field trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, and will probably say something to the tour guide like, "I'm sorry, you actually think the cotton gin is considered old?"

Heading out of the museum with my adventure buddy. 

Dags wasn't too sure about this guy at first, until I petted him and showed her he was very friendly!

It was another fabulous day, and we learned a lot! Hopefully you learned a little bit, too!