Penang – Part 5 (A)

My fifth trip to Penang was a couple of months ago but it didn’t start off very well.  In fact, it could have been a disaster.  I had been asked to conduct two days of training literally across the street from the Krystal Suites, the hotel where I stayed in 2011. I booked with Agoda and was issued a confirmation for two nights.  When I arrived I noticed that the unmanned reception desk had dust on it.  Not a good sign.  There were two security guards at a desk in the lobby who informed me that the hotel had been closed for two years!  Agoda is still taking bookings for this hotel.

Krystal Suites

Luckily for me, I had stayed here before and knew there was a good hotel not too far away.  The security guards called a taxi for me which took me to the Eastin Hotel   If I had been a tourist from Europe who had never been to Penang and didn’t speak English very well, I would have been in dire straits.  Agoda charged me for one night as a cancellation fee for a hotel that was not open.  It reminds me of the scam that the Wine Guys  were pulling in Australia but Agoda is a global company.  How are they getting away with this!?!

Anyway, my fifth trip to Penang has a happy ending (my favourite kind) but you will have to wait until next week for Penang – Part 5 (B) 🙂

 

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Penang – Part Two

My next trip to Penang was in 2011 for business.  I was asked to come and conduct on-site training for an international company with offices in Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone. This area is in the south-eastern part of Pulau Pinang (that’s Malay for Penang Island).  My flight from Singapore arrived the morning before the training so I had most of the day to explore a new part of Penang.  I chose to check out the snake temple.

There are more than just snakes, and believe me, there are a lot of snakes; there are also monkeys, tortoises and turtles, as well as iguanas and other kinds of lizards.

For lunch, I went to Jaya Cater’s Corner, a nearby open-air Indian restaurant where I had roti prata.  The irony of eating Indian food and visiting a Chinese temple in Malaysia is not completely lost on me but I also think it serves to prove that Malaysia is more multi-cultural than some might think.

Penang – Part One

Penang Island, in the Straits of Malacca, is my favourite part of Malaysia.  In fact, it is one of my favourite places in South East Asia.  Last month, I went to Penang for the fifth time and I decided it was time to write about it on this blog.

The first time I went to Penang was about 7 1/2 years ago.  I wrote about it on The AFB and if you follow this link you can read about how Penang had been on my list for a long time.

That first trip was to George Town, the capital of Penang and it was love at first sight for me.  I spent an entire day wandering around looking at the street art and I ended up at the Clan Jetties.

The next day I visited Penang Hill with its Kek Lok Si Temple which, according to Wikipedia “…is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia.”  It is also home to a huge statue of the Goddess of Mercy.

Kek Lok Si

Not only was that trip my first to Penang but it was also my first time staying in a Tune Hotel.  I can recommend it for those whose budget falls between a hostel and the Eastern & Oriental Hotel.

Ten Tips for Long Flights

My younger sister is coming to visit me in October and although she travels frequently, this will be the longest flight she has ever taken so she asked me for my advice.  Here are my suggestions for surviving super long flights:

  1. Buy the highest class of seat you can afford.  If you are like me and can only afford economy, choose the most comfortable seat available even if it means you have to pay a fee.  I am a bit claustrophobic so I vividly remember the two flights where I did not have an aisle seat.  
  2. In the old days, airlines provided pillows and blankets for all of their passengers.  These days, economy passengers are lucky to get a seat belt!  Getting as much sleep as possible will help to ward off jet lag and it is a lot easier to sleep when you feel cozy.  If you are travelling to a cold climate, bring a cardigan or an overcoat which you can use as a blanket, on board.  If you are travelling to a warm climate bring a pareo or beach towel either of which will double for a blanket, also bring an inflatable neck pillow.
  3. Drink a lot, preferably water 😉 Not only will this keep you hydrated in the Sahara-like on-board environment but will force you to make several trips to the toilet which leads us to tip number 4.
  4. Move!!  Do those at your seat exercises (see the in-flight magazine) but also get up and walk.  Big airplanes have miles (kilometers) of aisles that you can stroll up and down.  You can easily get your 10,000 steps done, just ask any flight attendant.
  5. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.  You might think your jeans are comfortable until you have had to wear them for more than 24 hours and sleep in them.  Also, metal buttons, zippers, and buckles could set off the security alarms at the airport so choose to wear something that more closely resembles pyjamas.
  6. Bring lip balm and hand lotion/ moisturizer (see tip 3).
  7. Bring a pen (sounds so simple but you’d be surprised how often I have had to lend mine to the person sitting next to me).
  8. View the hours you are forced to spend in airports and on planes as an opportunity to research your destination when you aren’t walking or sleeping.
  9. Bring a book, e-reader, or Ipad.
  10. If you have any food restrictions make sure to pre-order your meals.

A Five Hour Bus Ride

The cheapest way, short of walking or hitching a ride, to get between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur is by coach.  Several companies ply this route so choosing which one to use is based largely on how convenient the departure and arrival points are to where you are, and where you want to go.

I used to use a company that departs from a shopping mall 10 minutes on foot from my office. My last trip with my usual bus company ended up taking 8 hours instead of 5.  I did get to see a part of Singapore that I had never seen before and I took some photos while waiting for another bus to arrive so that the passengers could be consolidated.  This is a smart move, business-wise, for the bus company but it made my normal trip intolerably long.

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Unlike long flights on airplanes, there are no meals served, no movies to watch, and no toilets.  That is why I changed bus companies.  It is not as convenient for me to get to the new departure point (I have to take my luggage on the public transit) but at least once I am on the coach it is only 5 hours travelling time to Kuala Lumpur and a meal of nasi lemak and hot coffee were served on board.

Please note – there are sometimes long delays at the border crossings which are beyond the control of the bus companies.

 

A Public Service Announcement

If you, or friends of yours, are planning on visiting South East Asia (and I highly recommend it) please be aware that there is no duty-free allowance for tobacco or alcohol if you are coming into Singapore from Malaysia.  That means ‘zero’, ‘nada’, ‘niente’, ‘none’!

A few days ago our bus was delayed because some young backpackers were trying to bring alcohol into Singapore from Malaysia.  We ended up leaving them at the border crossing in the middle of the night.   I was reminded of an incident a few months ago when our bus was delayed because a middle-aged woman thought the open package of cigarettes she was carrying did not apply to the NO duty-free allowance law.

I have travelled with Singaporean friends who threw away their cigarettes before going through immigration.  Trash receptacles are provided. Although most countries allow for some tobacco products to be imported without duty, Singapore does not.  Some alcohol can be imported without duty but NOT from Malaysia.  It doesn’t matter where you purchased the alcohol if your last port of departure was Malaysia.

Wishing everyone safe travels!

heavy-traffic-expected-at-woodlands-and-tuas-checkpoints

 

Living With Fear

The following is the text of a talk I gave to the Introverts Network. The synopsis read “Andrea Brandle steps outside her comfort zone for a few minutes to share her belief that fear can and should be overcome. She is an introvert and her advice is “if I can do it, so can you”. Andrea hopes that at very least, you will be entertained. Please feel free to laugh out loud.”

Living with Fear or Don’t be Afraid to be an Introvert

I met Mervin when we were both contributors to a book called Turning Ideas into Profit. At the book launch the authors stood at the front of an auditorium and each talked about their own chapter – except for me. I would rather swim with sharks than stand in front of a group of people and speak. So I was the timer. It was my job to let each speaker know when their time was up. It is a much harder job than you might imagine. If the speaker was in the middle of making a good point, I was loathe to ring the bell. When Mervin got up to speak about his chapter “Beyond Handshakes”, he said that he was an introvert, I laughed out loud. I thought he was making a joke! How could an introvert be on stage? Clearly, I misunderstood what it means to be an introvert.
When Mervin asked me to come and speak to you, a group of introverts, I thought I had better find out exactly what an introvert really is. While researching, I read that, “Mistaking introversion for shyness is a common error. Introverts prefer solitary to social activities, but do not necessarily fear social encounters like shy people do.” The word fear resonated with me. I live with fear – it is my constant companion. I called this talk “Living with Fear” not “Living in Fear”. The difference may seem small but it is frighteningly huge – Godzilla huge! If you live in fear you are anticipating some event that might happen such as in Japan I lived in fear that an earthquake would strike. Living with fear means that I am constantly and consistently afraid. I am afraid of ordinary things that most people would not think of as even a little bit scary. I am afraid of stairs, and by extension, escalators which are really just moving stairs. I am afraid of everything with wheels so I don’t drive a car or ride a bicycle. I am afraid of sticky things!
At one time, I was phobic about insects. I could regale you with stories of being chased screaming from my home by a moth, or being reduced to tears by a small worm in my salad, but the story you need to hear is about the cockroach in New Orleans. In preparation to move to Botswana I went on a holiday to New Orleans. My logic was that if I couldn’t spend a week by myself in an American city, I had no business going to live in Africa. I was staying alone in a small apartment in the French Quarter. It was late in the evening and I went to use the toilet. I was naked. I am telling you this because, for me and for many others, nakedness increases my sense of vulnerability. I reached out a few centimeters and gave the toilet roll a tug. As it spun around, a roach almost as big as the toilet roll appeared – black against white, millimeters from my hand. We don’t have any insects this big in Canada. It was bigger than some mice I have seen. I screamed, a blood-curdling shriek, and ran out of the bathroom with urine running down my leg. I stood in the kitchen with my heart pounding. My brain knows that a cockroach cannot hurt me. My brain knows that I am far bigger and more deadly but I was terrified! So I said to myself, “well, I guess I can’t go to Botswana after all.” Surely, insects in Africa would be large and scary. But I really, really wanted to go. So I went back into the bathroom to face my fear. It took me a while to find the roach. He was hiding inside the toilet roll. He looked at me and I swear he was terrified. I could relate – so I told him that I was going to turn off the bathroom light and leave on the bedroom light and that he should then leave as quickly as his little roach legs would allow.

Believe it or not, one of my biggest fears is public speaking. Do you know that according to Wikipedia, public speaking is the number one fear in North America? The second greatest is death!! Think about that, I am less afraid of dying than I am of standing here in front of you speaking. But really, everything gets easier with practice. Karen Foo, who contributed the chapter on Motivating and Challenging the GenY, tricked me into speaking at a book signing event we had for Turning Ideas into Profit. It was in a bookstore and there were only two people listening but it was good practice. She has since roped me into being the MC at our monthly meetings for the Association of Professional Trainers of Singapore. I know she is doing it for my own good!
Mervin suggested that I talk to you about travelling because the best thing about my life is that it has been lived across continents. Singapore is the fifth country I have lived in. I was born in a mining town in Canada where I spent many months of the year afraid I would freeze to death. After that I lived in Botswana in the Kalahari Desert where there are more deadly snakes than anywhere else on Earth, I have already mentioned that I lived in Japan home to earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunami and finally Spain where I was robbed by gypsies before coming to Singapore. Many people think that means I am brave. Hardly!
As a child, I read about faraway places, distant lands, exotic destinations, but I never set foot outside of North America until I was thirty years old. At thirty, the fear that I would never see the world became greater than the fear of being in a place where the people looked different from me or spoke a different language or ate different food. So it was with great fear and trepidation that I embarked upon the trip that has become my life. Sometimes people will ask me what kind of job I do that allows me to live in such diverse places. I laugh! I do a different job every where I live. Sometimes I have a job arranged before I arrive, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I can speak the language, sometimes I can’t.
I really want to earn my living as a writer but often I fear I am not good enough. I have been writing since I was a little kid but no-one has ever paid me to write. I write about my adventures and about my observations of the world around me. I write about the people I meet . I think being a writer would be the perfect job for an introvert, except for the part where you have to promote your books. Mervin can help you with that part.
So why am I standing here in front of you with sweaty hands and trembling knees? Why do I pack up and move to another country as soon as I become comfortable? Perhaps I am just crazy. That would explain why an adult woman with a career and her own house in a good neighbourhood, would don a backpack, and with a one-way airplane ticket and a small tent, move to an African country she knew nothing about. Perhaps, I am not crazy but rather, I am driven by a deeper fear; maybe I am afraid of being ordinary.
In Mervin’s book “i Can Connect: An Introvert’s Handbook to Stress-Free Networking” he writes, “Some introverts are so embarrassed about being introverted, that they refuse to admit they are. They tend to hide it by displaying more extroverted behaviour in front of others.”
The point I want you to take away from this is that fear can be beaten. Fear can be overcome. Being fearful is something you should want to change about yourself. Being introverted is not something you should want to change! 25 to 30 percent of people, depending on which source you read, are introverted. Introverts are the scientists, philosophers, and artists. They are the thinkers, the ‘idea’ people. To say that introverts should try to be more extroverted is like saying red flowers should try to be yellow! Why?
According to Mervin, “We know what meeting new people can possibly do for our business and careers, yet it is this exact activity that also makes us want to clam up… When we finally pluck up the courage to attend such a meeting, whether it is an obligation to someone who had invited us, or because we eventually convinced ourselves to give it a try, we develop a whole new set of fears.” The part I especially like is “Embracing your introversion is the first step to accepting yourself for who you are. Introverts have qualities that help us excel at business networking: We value quality relationships, we love discussing ideas, we enjoy one-to-one time, we cherish our alone time and we enjoy observing people.” I am not going to stand up here and read the entire book to you but I do encourage you to read it, if you have not already. It highlights the qualities introverts can bring to group meetings and helps you to understand that you absolutely, positively, do not need to be afraid of being an introvert!

 

 

Out of Africa, Again – My Last Day in Kenya

10 April 2016 – Kenya Airways changed the Malindi – Nairobi flight to 10 a.m. so I lost my last day in Malindi but because I am the luckiest girl in the world, I ran into Roger, the owner of the Driftwood, in the little bookshop at the Malindi Airport.  He was buying a newspaper and I was buying When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin.  When Roger heard that I had a twelve-hour layover in Nairobi, he suggested that I go to the Ole-Sereni Hotel.  It is very close to the airport and has a bar (The Waterhole) with a view of Nairobi National Park.

13403744_10154022779465860_8632929407933897624_oBending it like Beckham

A man at Nairobi airport asked me if I needed a taxi.  I said, “Maybe”.  I was trying to find if there was more to do in the departures part of the airport than there was in the arrivals, and sadly, it seemed that the two coffee shops outside at the airport were the only places to eat.  I honestly could not imagine spending twelve hours there so Daniel Kariuki who works for Trova Viaggi Kenya, brought me to Ole-Sereni.  My flight was scheduled to board at 10:20 p.m. and Daniel said he would come back at 8 p.m. to return me to the airport.

13418429_10154022780085860_6596799223342669082_o

I had lunch and then I went to the spa where I had aloe gently rubbed into my poor burned back.  After returning to Singapore, I kept pulling strips of black/grey skin off my back which had bubbled up in the most grotesque way.  When I first started pulling it off, I didn’t recognize it as my skin!

Anyway,  I have fallen in love again with Africa.  It feels a little like having fallen for a lover’s cousin or, maybe even, brother.  I never imagined that I would love East Africa the way that I love Southern Africa but I have learned that ‘never’ is a word I should never use.

 

 

Out of Africa, Again – Surprise Birthday Party, Day 2

Saturday, 9 April 2016 – I had a breakfast of strong coffee with heated milk, a plate of fruit, and an omelette.  It was raining and there was a blinding flash of lightning followed immediately by deafening thunder. Later, one of the housekeeping staff said that the lightning strike had killed three children.  I really hoped the rumour was totally false.

Bar at the Driftwood

I headed to the Driftwood and bellied up to the bar.  I ordered a Pina Colada.  After a while, people who were attending the private function began to arrive.  It was a fabulous party. I said my toast but got choked up so it was even shorter than what I had written in the airport waiting for my flight to Kenya.  The notes in my journal read, “I met Krista in Maun, Botswana when she was just 23 years old.  She was full of light.  In the years since 1989, Krista has become a mother and a successful business woman.  Her achievements have not made her arrogant, and her trials have not diminished her light.  I would like to propose a toast to Krista – ‘Keep on shining!'”.

Dancing at the Driftwood

Saturdays the Driftwood hosts a Mongolian buffet so there was lots of good food.  Roger had hired a DJ so there was lots of good music.  There was lots of drinking and dancing and it was lots and lots and lots of fun.  At one point, I stepped outside and looked up; I nearly started to cry.  I will always be awed by the African night sky.

Out of Africa, Again – Surprise Birthday Party, Day 1

Friday, 8 April 2016 – After the dhow trip, we went to the bar at the Driftwood where some of the other ‘party people’ were gathered for drinks and lunch.  I had eaten two samosas on the dhow so I was not hungry; I had a pina colada.  There were a couple of regulars at the bar including Barry Koenecke whose work graces the walls of the bar.

I walked the 500 metres from the Driftwood to the Silversand Residences where I showered and washed the sea from my hair, then I had a nap.  I woke about an hour before sunset; I got dressed and walked over to Neem House.  More people had arrived. This was the first ‘official’ day of the party.  Ella’s invitation had stipulated that Friday’s festivities would begin at around 2 p.m. and that we should bring a bottle.  I still had about half of the box of wine left.

There was eating and drinking, dancing and laughing.  Krista showed a slide show of photos that she had taken or that had been taken of her.  They were brilliant!

Beautiful Party People