Monday, August 28, 2006


In Penang now, impressing my friend with my ability to get lost in a city I have visited several times and which isn't even very big. Today we bought a new suitcase for me, because the handle on the old one was destroyed by China Air. I could probably claim damages from them, but it's hardly worth it. It was a cheap suitcase. My new one is slightly more expensive (actually double, but the old one was VERY cheap) and, I hope, stronger.

The weather is a lot cooler than it was in Japan, and I am enjoying the respite. I am not sweating madly all the time, and especially enjoy the cooler evenings. Taiping was very humid and it rained every afternoon, but we expected that. It is not called the Rain Town for nothing. But it was worth it for the amazingly lush environment, and anyway it wasn't too hot. The jungle seems to be growing as you watch, creeping in over everything. Green, green, green, green...

Penang is busy and friendly, as always. The main backpacker area has got worse, but where we stay things have improved. When we asked for rooms at the back of the hotel as we usually do, to avoid the noisy music that goes on all night, the woman told us the offending place had closed down.

"No more noisy!" she cried triumphantly, so we took rooms at the front and got better views.

We'll be here for a couple more days, and then we're off on the bus again to the east coast. Eventually we will have a couple of days at a beach, and then work our way back down to Kuala Lumpur.

We are walking a lot, maybe even enough to justify the six or eight meals a day we seem to be managing to squeeze in. The food here is, as always, FABULOUS, and The Man knows all the best street stalls and restaurants. Following him around is like following a galloping gourmet. We gallop from one great meal to the next.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Whoop whoop! Whee!

I am in Taiping, typing. In fact I am typing on a very fuzzy computer that makes me feel a little dizzy, so this is just a quick note to say we're having a FABULOUS time. The stories will probably have to wait for after we get back to Japan if we carry on the way we are - there is no time to write. But eventually I will tell you about the Lake Gardens, the night safari at the zoo, the mangrove forests, the fishing village, the hill station, and also, a mysterious creature we encountered without actually seeing, which we named the Whoop! because that's what it says. "Whoop whoop!" it hoots gleefully. "WHEEEE!"

Actually, we found out later what the Whoop! is, but I will save that little story for when I can upload the video. (Not that you can see the Whoop! in the video, but you CAN hear it.)

Tomorrow we are visiting the local museum, and then we're off to Penang.

We are eating very, very well.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Day 3, I think

No update yesterday because I was too tired, after walking all day, and it will be only a short post today, sorry. Blogger is slow (or this Internet cafe connection is slow), and I am worried that anything I write will be lost anyway. But I'll answer a couple of commenter questions here, at least.

Kay: No computer - I'm just using Internet cafes. Actually our hotel has a computer we can use free, but it's in the cafe which closes at 10pm, and I'm always out until way after that. But Internet cafes are cheap.

RaJ: We ALMOST had a flash flood yesterday, and again today. If it had rained a little longer than the couple of hours we got each evening, the roads, which had become small rivers, might have flowed over. As it was the traffic was still moving, albeit slowly. We were stuck under an awning drinking tea and counting the seconds between lightning flash and thunderclap. One ... t - KABOOOOM! It was metcha exciting.

Kenju: The Chinese staff at the airport spoke English. That was not the problem. The problem was that they didn't seem quite sure what to do with us.

Other news: I took my friend shopping today. She had a list. We eventually got back to the hotel and I was laden down with stuff I'd not planned on buying. She hadn't bought anything on her list. It was, apparently, MY shopping day today, not hers. So there. (But I did introduce her to a couple of places she wants to go back to when we're back in KL at the end of the trip.)

Tomorrow we're off up the coast, on our way to Penang, with a stop along the way.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Day one and a half

Beijing airport: If you're a transit passenger on certain airlines (but not others) you have to go through immigration and get your passport stamped in order to change planes. We fell into this category. For all the other airlines, you also had to collect your baggage and recheck it for the next flight, so we were the lucky ones, weren't we?

Nobody told us this, though, so we didn't know what was going on.

What happens is that you start by confusedly filing down the steps off the plane to the tarmac, where there is a bus waiting. You get on the bus. It takes you to another building at reckless speed, dodging large aircraft and evading random airport workers on foot and in other vehicles. At the other building you wander around for a while until you find the place you think you are supposed to be, find out you are wrong, or perhaps you are right but they're not ready for you yet. At some point an exasperated and busy airport staff member appears and herds you around until you feel like saying, "BA-A-A-A-A!" Suddenly she barks, "WAIT THERE!" and points at a very specific spot on the floor.

You stand on that spot as she goes off and deserts you. You don't know what is happening, but you are afraid to move.

Time goes by, confusing stuff happens, and you fill in forms. You do not have to fill in the one that asks if you are suffering from psychosis, venereal disease, or snivelling, and you feel slightly disappointed by this. A while later, as your passport gets stamped, you are grateful that your stopover was for five hours because if it had been any shorter you might have missed your flight. You start to worry about the return trip, when you have only two and a half hours to accomplish all this, whatever it was.

KL: It's the same as ever. Hot, but not as hot as Japan, despite being nearer the sun (ha!) and the food is much better.

Independence Square: Late at night we go to see the illuminations. I take pictures, which may or may not end up on here at some point. We are sitting at the edge of the grassy area when I turn and notice an electronic bulletin board with words scrolling across it in English. The words I see are:


"Flash floods!" I tell The Man and our friend. "There's a sign about flash floods!"

We look at the sky. It has not rained all day. They think I am making it up, and I try hard to assure them that I really did see this sign. We watch it as it scrolls, but now it is in Malaysian. We wait and wait for the English to come back, and the others tease me. The idea of flash flooding only in one spot by City Hall is starting to seem rather unlikely to me, too, and I start to wonder if I hallucinated it.

The English scrolling starts again:


I feel better when the last five words appear.


More tomorrow.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Something to report

I haven't been writing much in here recently. This is because, mostly, there is nothing to report. The weather is predictably horrible, it's too hot to think, and practically the only thing I'm managing to do on a regular basis is to visit the park on the way back from the supermarket. Then I come home and collapse with a book. How exciting is that? Summer here is always like this. It's hot and unpleasantly sticky, and never lets up. Nights are almost as hot as days, and more humid.

And that is why, in a couple of days, we're popping over to Malaysia for three weeks, with a friend. Actually, 'popping' is the wrong word. We're going over very, very slowly. A direct flight is about six hours, and we're taking a bit more than twelve, using cheap tickets. They are cheap for a reason. We'll have time to get to know Beijing airport very well, since we'll be spending almost as much time there as we will in the air. I am not complaining about this, however, because we are paying less than half the usual price for August flights.

I will try to blog regularly while I am away. In fact I'll probably blog more regularly than I am now.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Boy in park

Cicadas aren't scary. They're just a little SUDDEN sometimes.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


In the wee hours of this morning I was awakened by maniacal giggling in the bed next to me. Something hilarious was happening, evidently.

"What's so funny?" I asked, groggy with sleep.

"AHAAAA ha ha ha!" chortled The Man.

"Eh?" I said.

"Stop it!" gasped The Man.

"Stop what?" I asked, starting to wake up properly.

"HEEEEE! Ha ha ha ha!" said The Man, squirming. Then he added, breathlessly,

"You're tickling me!"

And apparently, I was. His arm was up over his head (he claimed this was because I'd left no room for it anywhere else) and somehow I'd flung out my arm so that my hand was touching his ribs. And I was wiggling my fingers in my sleep.

That's what he says, anyway. I don't remember anything like that, and I'm not sure that I believe him. I think it is highly likely he was just having a funny dream that woke him up and he wanted to blame me. Why would I wiggle my fingers in my sleep? That's just silly.

No ducks

Today was very hot, but I went for a bicycle ride anyway. I did not go to the big river, where there is not enough shade, but to the small river. I was hoping to see some of my feathered friends, but there were no birds except a few crows and pigeons.

At the small river I met an old man who assured me that there was a duck family further downstream, with four ducklings, so I decided to follow the river downstream to see if I could find them. I didn't have to cycle very long before I was pretty well lost, but that didn't matter. I was not in a hurry. It was hot, though, so I bought some tea from a vending machine and put that in my basket.

After a while the river became larger where another, even smaller river joined it. I had not seen any duck family, and could not follow the large river after that because it was lined with factories and there was no road or bicycle path. I turned back and followed the other smaller river back upstream, instead.

As I cycled, this smaller river started looking less and less like a river and more and more like slow-moving sludge. It was a very industrial area, with factories all around, so you can imagine my surprise when I got home and saw that the one picture of the river I had taken had no buildings in it at all. It was a part of the river where a little bridge crossed and then went nowhere. From the bridge I got a good view of the disgusting water. I also got a good view of the only water bird I saw all day. I do not know what this little heron was doing so far from civilized bird society and clean water. Perhaps he had been exiled, or maybe he was just feeling brave. In any case there he was, adding a decorative touch to the dirty little river.

Looking down from the bridge I got a birds-eye view of the rubbish down there. It looked like people used it as a dumping spot, probably because of the greenery providing cover. There was a bicycle, but no ducks.

That was the only part of this stretch of the river not surrounded by concrete and factories. The greenery was not looked after near the bridge, as you can see. But just a little further on from there I came across a tiny, rather straggly bit of land beside the river that had been cultivated at some time. It was like a little oasis in an industrial wasteland, and whoever had cultivated it had planted sunflowers and then, it seemed, abandoned them. Many of the sunflowers were dying, but a few were still going strong.

I stopped at this spot to drink my tea and admire the sunflowers, which were the only things to look at, really. There were certainly no ducks.

While I was drinking, I watched a dragonfly, which seemed very interested in the older sunflowers.

After that I went home. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to find any ducks, and it was too hot anyway.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Naughty, NAUGHTY pigeons

Saturday, August 12, 2006

More bug news

You thought I was exaggerating about the cicadas waking me up, didn't you? Well, I wasn't, and now I have the pictures to prove it. This afternoon I checked right outside our bedroom window, and found the culprits almost within arms length. I knew they were there, but The Man has been chasing them away every morning (while I lie there grumbling), and I hadn't realized just how close - or how many - there were.

Our window, like most Japanese windows, is frosted. It also has an opaque corrugated plastic sheet mounted outside the window, to stop the neighbours (and/or passers-by) from looking in. (Haven't Japanese architects ever heard of curtains?) This means, of course, that we cannot look out, either, except for a small gap under the corrugated plastic when the frosted window is open.

When I bent down to look under the corrugated plastic, I discovered that I could see SEVEN cicadas right outside our window. By poking my camera under the gap, I was able to photograph six of them. They were sitting there looking innocent and not making a sound, but I know what they can do. They do it every morning. This is a cicada CHOIR, and they're LOUD.

Here are the photographs. The first three are on the upright trunk of the tree, and the second three are on a branch. There was another one I couldn't get a picture of. It was on the other side of the trunk, and I couldn't get the camera to focus. (Actually I was worried I would drop the camera out of the window.)

After I took these photos I poked at the cicadas until they flew away. I was in no mood to be kind.

I was talking to a friend tonight about this, and she said,

"Isn't it funny how they come back? They seem to choose a tree and that's it. That's the only one they want to be in."

I had noticed this. The Man chases them away every morning when they wake us up, and they are always back pretty quickly. He hadn't told me how many there were, though, and I hadn't looked so closely before.

After my phonecall I went to check if the cicadas were back already. They weren't. I'm hoping that since I disturbed them after it became dark they won't be able to find their way back. I am also hoping they don't use first light (which is unreasonably early) to find their way back. I hope they make their racket somewhere else for a change tomorrow morning.

In other bug news, the kanabun that was enjoying the watermelon so much decided to get generous and share the good watermelon news with its friends, and this afternoon there were three beetles instead of one slurping on watermelon. In this picture you can see only two, but that is because the one on the right is sitting on one of its friends. Maybe that's what friends are for, if you're a kanabun.

They have almost finished the watermelon, in fact. I think I will put out another slice for them in the morning. They are very decorative bugs. I am told that they are also rather destructive to plants, but these ones seem to be interested only in watermelon, so I'm hoping that as long as we keep them supplied with fruit they'll leave everything else alone.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Gold bug

Yesterday The Man kindly left out a piece of watermelon for a butterfly that was hanging around and showing great interest in the honeysuckle, which is, of course, not blooming at the moment. However, the butterfly was not interested. Apparently butterflies do not like watermelon.

Somebody does, though. This morning as I left the house I saw that the watermelon had attracted a gold bug. It was a kanabun - a Japanese drone beetle.

We looked on the web to be certain of its identity, and found that it appears to like fruit. This is clearly a correct identification.

But we thought, briefly, that it might be a koganemushi (scarab beetle), and while I was searching for images I found this picture of a koganemushi which is rather amazing. If you cross your eyes slightly until you are seeing three pictures instead of two, and focus on the middle picture, the beetle will suddenly spring out of your computer in three dimensions.

This is probably very bad for your eyes, but I recommend it anyway.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Cycle, recycle

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


This year the cicadas are particularly noisy. We have them in our garden, and every morning, at around 5.30 they start up outside our bedroom window. It is like being woken by a chainsaw. Those kumazemi (bear cicadas) are LOUD, and I think it should be illegal for them to make that much noise at that time of day. I'm pretty sure if a person did it they'd be arrested.

Watching TV also becomes difficult when they are indulging in their noise-making activities outside the window. When the kumazemi start up, suddenly you can't hear a word anybody is saying on the TV. Unless you are good at lipreading you have to turn up the volume to hear anything anyone is saying, and then the kumazemi stops and the TV blasts at you so loudly you feel assaulted. Just when you get the volume back to a bearable level, the kumazemi start up again, and you can't hear anything.

People often say that they miss the sound of cicadas when they leave Japan. I think it must be one of those things that you miss in the same way that if you lived next to a karaoke bar you'd miss the sound when you moved.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Today I went to the river after all. I went later than usual, so I wouldn't get too much sun on my poor burnt legs. This meant that there was not enough light to take good pictures.

However, I decided to play around with the movie function on my camera. I have never used it before, but it was easy. While I was playing with it, a heron caught a fish, I think, and then perhaps an egret did too, and then it had an argument with another egret. (Actually, it's a bit hard to see what is happening, the quality is so bad.)

I forgot to turn on the sound but that doesn't matter because the only thing you'd hear is rushing water anyway.

This is not a good video. The light was awful, I was a bit wobbly, and there is no editing. Also, the picture is small, because this is not a video camera, just a usual camera. Do not expect too much. The cameraperson did a rubbish job and the technical quality is awful - but the actors did their best to provide a little drama.

So here it is - my first ever video.

(It is 34 seconds)

Saturday, August 05, 2006


Yesterday on my way home from the supermarket I went for a little ride (just a little one - I'm not going to the river until the sunburn fades) and noticed that a local park had been prepared for Obon. All the little neighbourhoods have their own small festival, and this is the first one I've seen around here. The lanterns were up, and some stalls had been set up already.

I went back in the evening.

I always prefer the little festivals to the big, famous ones. I have been to the Gion Matsuri and the Tenjin Matsuri, and while they were exciting, have no urge to go to either again. Coping with the crowds was exhausting.

At the little, local festivals there are no crowds, just the local people. The atmosphere is relaxed and fun. Some people dress up in yukata to dance, and others just wear normal clothes. Some looked like they've come straight from work. This picture shows the dancers who were wearing yukata.

And while it was not particularly spectacular, it was fun, and the lanterns were pretty.

Fridge emergency

For years we've had two fridges. Both were small, inadequate, and old. One was free and the other was cheap, which is why we had two. They date from the days when we couldn't afford a new fridge, and then when we could if we wanted, the old ones stayed through sheer apathy. They worked, right? Why worry?

But for months, maybe a couple of years, I've been telling The Man we need a new fridge. Wouldn't it be nice to have one decent sized fridge instead of two old ones? They're not ozone friendly, and we could free up some space, right? Also, things stored on the top shelf would not get icy.

We'd talk about about what size fridge we'd need, the problem of getting the old ones taken away, how much trouble it would be, and how much it would cost, and then we'd end up not doing anything because we couldn't quite agree about what was necessary.

Two days ago, the biggest fridge gave up the ghost.

I said to The Man,

"Can I say, I told you so?"

"Oh, all right," he answered.

"I TOLD YOU SO!" I said.

This did not solve the problem. We still had food warming up in the fridge, not a good situation when the temperature is not likely to get below 26 degrees Celsius for the next few weeks.

So yesterday we went shopping.

We spent so much money I now feel dizzy when I think about it. Then we came home and cleaned out both old fridges, and the floor where they'd been standing. (Does anybody clean under their fridge? We didn't, and I don't want to write about how the floor looked.)

The new fridge was delivered four hours after we chose and paid for it in the shop. It is huge, and wonderful. It purrs instead of buzzing and whining and rattling. It has an ice maker. I have never had a fridge with an ice maker before, and find it all terrifically exciting. I keep waiting for it to go CLUNK! So far it hasn't, although it is making ice. Is it making ice silently, do you think, or is it waiting until we leave the room before going CLUNK? Maybe going CLUNK is a private thing for fridges. Who knows what goes on inside a fridge when you close the doors.

This is turning out to be a very domesticated vacation.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Ow. Ow. Ow.

I was with some friends the other day and we started talking about sunscreen. One of them told us about some sunscreen she'd found that blocked both UVA and UVB. We talked about the relative effectiveness of various sunscreens we had tried.

I told them that I always use the sunscreen I get in New Zealand, put out by the Cancer Society. I was pretty sure it blocked UVA and UVB, and I thought that the Cancer Society would know what they were doing. One of my friends asked when I bought it.

"Oh, a couple of years ago," I said. I thought for a moment. "Maybe three or four years, actually. Or ... five?"

"It might not work anymore," she said. "What's the expiry date?"

Expiry date? I hadn't even thought about that.

When I got home I couldn't find an expiry date on the sunscreen. But was it not working? I'd been thinking I was getting a bit more colour than I usually do, but had attributed that to spending more time down by the river than I usually do in summer. What if the sunscreen wasn't working? My father got skin cancer. It was found quickly, and easily removed, but still, I know I should be careful.

Today I went down to the river again. Usually I wear sunscreen on my face, arms, hands, neck and shoulders. And usually I wear cotton trousers, and sneakers, so I don't worry about my legs and feet.

Today I wore a skirt and sandals. It was hot, and I thought it would be nice to get some sunshine and air on my legs and feet. I applied sunscreen in all the usual places, but I did not put sunscreen on my legs or feet. This is because, er, because, er ... um ... because ... I had a moment of spectacular idiocy? No, wait! It was a scientific experiment! To find out whether my sunscreen was still working! Yes, that's it! My legs and feet were the controls.

I went to the river, took some pictures, and came home after about an hour and a half.

My scientific experiment was extremely successful. I can now tell you, from experimental evidence, that my sunscreen is working very well indeed. My arms, hands, shoulders, neck and face are not bright red and radiating heat and making me walk funny.