"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."
"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.