Sunday, February 16, 2014


Although we would have liked to stay a few more days on Pangkor, Chinese New Year was approaching and we needed to get to Ipoh.  It’s a hellish time for travel here.  People of Chinese ethnicity here are very much tied to their heritage, and the main feature of this holiday is to get together with family.  Last year, when we were here, we were on the road a little too close to the New Year, and a 6 hour bus ride became a 10 hour butt breaker.  Many buses were sold out, so we should have felt fortunate to have gotten tickets, but by the end of that journey our good fortune had lost some of its luster. 
Anyway,departure was the reverse order of our arrival—pink mini bus taxi, ferry ride, then bas terminal.  The terminal in Lumut is a bit bare bones, but has an excellent food court where we gorged ourselves on spicy fish and chicken dishes, washed down by the requisite sweetened lemon iced tea.  We then had to kill about 45 more minutes in slightly sweltering conditions, but there were fans and iced tea so it was a very mild kind of suffering.
 Bas Eksekutif!!
 Bas terminal view
Mild suffering
Our ride was only a couple of hours, and we arrived at a horrid little terminal in the pleasant city of Ipoh.  We were in Ipoh last year which is Malaysia’s second largest city and the home of my college roommate, Kurt and his wife, Teresa.  He has new digs, which we actually had been to last year when they were occupied by a youngish Texan and his couch surfing guests.  It’s a lovely villa on the outskirts of town nestled against jungle and karst mountains.  The owner is Chinese and he raises thoroughbred race horses there.  Kurt is living well.

First item on the agenda that evening was to go to an American owned pizza joint.  The owner is from Chicago and he has wood fired ovens and makes excellent pizza.  He would get rave reviews in Chicago, although I’m not sure about New York.  We then spent the rest of the evening drinking beer and catching up.
Kurt has a good job training English teachers in primary schools, and I got to go with him one morning to observe.  It was very interesting to observe the differences between the Malaysian schools and Chinese schools. 
Malaysia has three major ethnic groups: Malay, Chinese, and Indian.  The schools are generally divided up that way, but are not strictly segregated.  The school we visited that day was a Malay school, out in the country near a bird sanctuary and of course, palm oil plantations.
First we met the teachers, who were nervous since he was just beginning to work with them and they hadn't been observed.  There were two Malay women and another woman of Indian heritage.  Kurt chatted them up using his excellent schmoozing skills to put them at ease, then we went off to observe.  Malaysian classrooms are much smaller than Chinese classrooms, and these had only about 20 kids in each.  Chinese class sizes are more along the lines of a university lecture hall, with 60 to 70 kids being the norm.  The girls, if they are Malay, have their heads covered.  There were some Indian kids, too.  All are much more polite than Chinese kids.  We got lots of “Good morning, sir” greetings from them.  At the end of class, the kids would come to say goodbye.  They do this by taking your right hand, then touching the back of it to their forehead while making a slight bow.  Chinese kids basically mob you and try to pick your pocket.
The kids we observed were grades 1 through 3, and were much more advanced than Chinese kids at this age.  This is due mostly to class size, but also can be attributed to having teachers who are more fluent, as well as having once been an English colony.  Large Chinese classes are not very conducive to learning a spoken language.

We had a nice meal with the teachers, which was excellent.  This is the normal fare for teachers there, lucky them!  Then we met the head master.  She was very welcoming and friendly.  I have found that in China, the head masters tended to be more indifferent, and I rarely, if ever saw them.  
As I said, Kurt has a nice job.  That work day was over by 1pm.  He gets a decent salary, a car, and a housing allowance.  He has several schools he works with, so the job does involve some driving.  That particular school is near a golf course, so he usually brings his clubs when he goes there.
The driving part is a little exciting.  They drive on the left side of the road, and some are kind of insane, passing on blind corners and such.  Compared to the drivers in China, however, they are much more competent, and do follow most rules of the road, such as going with the flow of traffic, stopping at red lights, and avoiding driving on the sidewalks.
Because of the Chinese New Year, Kurt had some time off and we hit the links.  This year we went to course that had more of a Third World flair.  It's located in a bird sanctuary, so there was ample nature.  The fairways needed some mowing, and there were some swampy spots.  Out of bounds was dense jungle, complete with monkeys and cobras.  Hit out of bounds and that ball is lost for good.  Monkey toys.  The sand traps had quite a bit of foliage growing in them and the greens were kind of brown.  However, the green fees were only 25 ringgit, about 8 bucks.  Carts are not available, and would only get stuck in the swamps, but the green fees include a pull cart for your clubs.

We did a bit of bird watching along the course which was nigh deserted.  There was one area that had an abundance of monitor lizards, both on land and swimming around.  The Malaysian varieties are pretty darn big and would probably consider a toy poodle a light snack.

While teeing off next to a lake, we heard a screech and saw a hapless waterfowl becoming lunch for a squadron of these creatures.  Cool to watch, even though the bird was not enjoying it so much.  It’s OK to enjoy watching animals suffer if it’s Nature!

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