The Quarantined Canuck

We’ve been back in China for over a week now, and although our quarantine is now technically over, we are still spending most of our time at home. Most things are still closed, so we haven’t had much choice. I thought you may all be wondering what it’s like back in Suzhou at the moment, so a quick update is in order.

Just finished my 3rd novel since we got back. Nothing like a little perspective to remind me that this whole “virus thing” really isn’t that bad….

The Trip Back to China

Our flight back to China was fairly uneventful. We put on our masks, and tried to get a bit of sleep. We landed at around 9:30 at Pudong airport, and that’s when we started seeing the differences in this country we’ve made our home…

Waiting for our flight in Kuala Lumpur

Pudong was remarkably empty. Even at 9:30, it’s usually a very busy place. We made it through customs quickly and got our luggage in record time. The emptiness wasn’t the strangest thing though… The hazmat suits are what unnerved me.

Nothing like getting off a plane and being greeted by people in space suits

All over the airport, there were people taking temperatures, wearing heavy-duty masks and full on plastic suits ranging from ‘that kinda looks like a trash bag’ to ‘whoa, that guy’s wearing a hazmat suit’. It felt like a scene from the movies. Still, we moved through without issue.

My temperature was probably taken about 10 times throughout that Malaysia to China travel experience

Suzhou has a population of about 8 million people, but no airport, so our journey wasn’t over once we cleared customs. At the moment there are 3 options to get back to Suzhou from Pudong Airport….(I’ve been told now that there are more options, but these are the ones I knew about at time of writing)

Not all options are equal…

Option 1: Take the long distance bus from Pudong airport to central SIP. This option always leaves me extremely car sick, and it takes hours to get back home. It’s cheap, but time consuming. I hate this option the most.

The last time we took the bus, I had a full on breakdown at the bus terminal because someone had smeared poo all over the walls in the women’s bathroom. It’s not the most welcoming way to return to the country…I sat there and cried until the bus came (needed to pee…got very little sleep on the plane….so much poo……)

Option 2: Take a high speed train to Suzhou. This option SEEMS simple, but in reality, it can end up being more expensive than option #3, which I’ll get to in a minute. First, you need to go from Pudong airport, to the train station. There’s no direct way to do this without taking a very overpriced taxi (200rmb, just to get to the station…and that’s if you don’ t get ripped off). Then, you have to deal with the train station, which is smelly, smokey, crowded and dirty.

This is the “nice” railway station in Shanghai. The one we take has half as many seats, twice as many people and smells like la tiao (spicy tofu) It’s basically the worst smell in the world. Just a bad as poo…)

Option 3: Hire a driver. This option has been our go-to for the last 3 years now, and we won’t be switching back any time soon. It costs about 350rmb (about $70 Canadian), but is highly convenient, fast and actually often ends up being cheaper than Option #2 in the end. During this coronavirus period, there was no question…we hired the car.

They show up with your name on a paper. Dave’s Wechat name is “D’Rhymes”….

At this point, we usually walk past 100 illegal taxi drivers all trying to take us for a ride (literally and figuratively), and track down our guy… This year was easier though, because the illegal drivers were nowhere in sight! Still, I was nervous about the drive back to beautiful Suzhou…

Shanghai to Suzhou

Now, usually, getting back into Suzhou is simple. You stop at a few toll booths, but that’s it. Of course, this isn’t a typical year…

Nope. Not typical…

We’ve been following the news closely and I’ve been getting updates from various sources, including my school and friends who had already returned to Suzhou. It seemed like everyone gave us a different set of things we would need on that trip back, but we had no idea which ones were important and which ones weren’t. Here’s a list of some of the things we were told we would need:

  • Our rental contract & residency permits
  • An arrival form with the licence plate of the car we would be taking into the city (this was suppose to be done before we got back to China but our driver wouldn’t give us his licence plate number, making it impossible)
  • A health code (which we couldn’t get because the only two options you could choose were “I’ve been in Suzhou for two weeks” or “I’ve been in a different Chinese city for 2 weeks”… Neither of which were true..
  • A different code that we couldn’t get because we don’t have Chinese IDs cards
  • A signature or the presence of our landlord to get back into our compound.

Here’s a list of what we actually needed:

  • A bit of bare skin so that they could take our temperatures.
Whoever makes these little temperature guns is making a killing at the moment. I’ve had at least 2 of these things pointed at my head every day since we returned

Our First Week Back

We were thrilled to see our cats, and they were thrilled to see us. It was nice sleeping in our own bed once more. We were gone for 37 days total, and in a lot of ways, we were happy our travels were over.

My sweet Ollie is still stuck to me like glue

Life’s been a bit strange in Suzhou. We were technically supposed to be under quarantine for a week upon our return, but we were allowed to go out and get groceries or to pick up food, as long as we wore masks.

One of the entrances to our compound has been boarded up so that everyone goes through 1 gate.

Most restaurants are still closed for dining, and are only doing take out. The few restaurants that ARE open for dining still have to close by 7pm, and being the late eaters that we are, we’ve ended up missing our window a couple of times now.

We have had to resort to fast food more than once. Even there though, you can’t dine in. In fact, you can’t even walk in… They take your order at the door and you take it home to eat.

Cooking at home is just not really something we’ve done much in China, simply because the groceries we want are hard to find and really overpriced, so for the past 6 years, we’ve go out for lunch and dinner pretty much every day. Of course, the virus has changed all that, and our fridge is now actually stocked with more than just coffee creamer and a few bottles of hot sauce.

We were annoyed when we had to pay the equivalent of $15 Canadian for a 1 liter of cream… Dairy is expensive in this country!

Online purchases are making their way to us now, slowly but surely. Delivery drivers can’t actually drive into our compound though, so we need to walk out to the front to get anything that’s brought in (including jugs of water for our water dispenser).

They’ve put plastic wrap over all the buttons in the elevators. I have no idea what that is supposed to do because people have to touch it anyway. I’ve taken to hitting the button for our floor with my elbow to avoid it

You have to wear a mask if you go outside, which makes sense to me. I know they don’t really help prevent you from getting sick…but they DO help prevent people from spreading their germs in the first place. The way I see it: if I have to wear a mask, that means the sick people need to as well. It makes me feel safer.

It keeps my face warm!

We’re being very diligent about washing our hands, washing our phones, washing down tables we sit at, and just basically not touching anything. I walk around with both hands in my pockets and I don’t take off my gloves unless I need to.

We’re starting to see more people out and about now but everything is still closing down early. This was the shopping mall near our apartment earlier this week. It’s usually full of people.

As of this week, a few restaurants have opened back up for dine-in, but with strange restrictions like ‘there must be 1.5 meters between each customer’ and ‘only 1 person can sit at each table’. Dave and I went out for dumplings for lunch yesterday and were suppose to sit at two separate tables. Of course, foreigners can kinda get away with ignoring some of the rules, so we sat down at a double table and sat beside each other instead of across from each other, and nobody said anything.

Tables only have 1 chair at them in any restaurant that is open. In order to have more people than that at a table, restaurants need to be given special permission from the government. To get that permission, they need to follow a whole lot of rules, like properly cleaning things, and wearing gloves if you’re handling food… Basically, they just need to have proper standards of cleanliness
I’ve been smelling actual cleaners being used since we returned! It took me a second to realize why our apartment building smelled different the other day… Then I realized: they’re using more than just water to clean the floors!! Hallelujah!!!

Getting into a Routine

For now, we’re continuing to try and stay in a routine. I teach online Monday-Friday, and that keeps me busy. We’ve been cooking most of our meals at home (which has been really nice!), and doing a lot of reading in my free time. I’ve finished 3 novels now in the past 8 days, and I’ve been slowly working my way through our photos so that I can finish up my last few blog posts. Life has been slower, calmer and more relaxed, which honestly has been a really good thing.

Hugo likes to curl up on me while I read

Teachers across China are still waiting for schools to re-open. It seems ridiculous now that my boss thought we’d be back in classes by February 17th, when in reality, we’ll be happy to be back before the end of March. For my own students, online learning has been okay. SIPFLS has done a good job of keeping students accountable and giving us tools we can work with. I have friends who are working with awful systems and whose students aren’t doing any of the work, making teaching an even more difficult task.

I teach lessons using a program called Zoom. I can upload files for them to see, share my screen and we use video and audio for class discussions. Not quite the same as a conventional classroom, but not too bad either!

I have a few posts left for Langkawi, including one about the island’s wildlife, and also one for the eco-tourism offered on the island. Malaysia has become a very high contender for the next country where we will live. Our experiences there were great, and I can’t help but wish I were back there right now…

We haven’t seen blue skies since we got back. I miss Malaysia so much!!!

Waiting Out Coronovirus

At this point, I’m no longer on holiday. We’re still in Langkawi and I’m still not physically teaching classes, but I’m still back at work in a sense. The wonders of the internet have allowed me to teach remotely.

My poor students have had to put up with my awkward video lessons

This Strange Holiday

We were originally supposed to be back at work as of Feb 10th, but that was extended to Feb 17th in an effort to keep the virus from spreading further. The government also requested that people avoid flying into China unnecessarily, so we changed our flights to February 15. It wasn’t an issue. Most flight companies are kindly offering refunds on flights to China throughout the virus.

Many airlines have cancelled all flights to and from China until March at this point

Just last week though, the government decided that February 17th was still too early to reopen schools and has now declared that schools should not open before the end of February. This time, they didn’t give us an estimated return date.

We knew we wouldn’t be back in February. That’s all we knew

Shortly after the announcement was made, our February 15th flights were cancelled by Air Asia, and the company announced that they were suspending all flights back to China until March.

Schools React

This is where things have gotten a bit ugly for a lot of the teachers in China. Many foreigners have decided to move home due to the virus, breaking contracts and leaving their schools and students in the lurch. On the other hand, I’ve heard of many schools demanding that their employees come into the school to do “paperwork” until the schools reopen

I couldn’t find an appropriate meme, so I made one…

In some cases, schools have tried deducting wages or flat out telling their staff that they aren’t getting paid for February. Now, this might make sense if teachers aren’t doing online classes or producing online material for their students, but some schools have gone so far as to demand these materials but to also claim they won’t be paying their staff.

Once more…I put Pic Collage to good use…

Our Situation

I’ve been very lucky. My school administration has asked me to work during this shut down period but they’re making sure to track our work to guarantee that we will be paid for it. I think this is the best way to go about all this (for middle School and high school anyway) because at the end of the day, students still need to pass their final tests to get into good highschool’s and universities, and honestly… As crazy as all this has been… Life can’t just stop.

Those tests won’t write themselves!

Of course, life isn’t normal either. We are safer in Malaysia for the time being so this is where we’re staying. Suzhou has over 80 cases now, but the virus does seem to be slowing down. Every day we check the news to see what the new numbers of sick, dead and recovered patients.

We’re happy to be seeing much lower numbers these days. We live in SIP. It’s finally starting to disappear.

Dave and I have been incredibly fortunate in many ways. We’re in a safe and beautiful country (Malaysia) where money goes a long way and the internet is good. I work for a good school that is treating us well. We also have a cat sitter who is visiting our pets every day and an apartment complex that allows her to go in and out. We’ve been on the lucky side of things in a lot of different ways.

The world’s greatest cat sitter right here! This is how she dresses up daily to come visit our kitties

Facing Challenges

Still, it’s been hard. The most difficult part for me has been to remain positive for the sake of others. A lot of people are really scared. A lot of our friends are back in China, and some of them are immunocompromised, and less likely to survive should they catch coronavirus. We have friends from Wuhan, whose family members are sick, and who can’t go home. We have friends whose parents are doctors, working around the clock and putting themselves at risk. A lot of medical personal have caught the virus and have died from it. Scarier yet, a doctor passed away last week from sheer exhaustion. He was only 28, and he died of heart failure after working hour after hour, day after day, trying to save lives.

Doctors from all over China are being sent to Hubei province to help with the outbreak. Many of them have gotten sick and even died

I am a community leader in the suzhou expat circles, managing multiple Wechat groups, with up to 500 people in each. These forums are invaluable resources for people living in China, and they’re how we stay in touch with other Canadians, teachers and how we get advice on everything from where to eat to how to renew your passport if it expires while you’re abroad.

Some of the groups I run.

I run several communities regarding animal rescue, which has really been a big job through all of this. There have been so many rumours spread about the virus… Some people claim the virus was bio warfare. Others claim that it was a leaked virus from a lab. The one that has been personally quite difficult for me has been the idea that pets can transmit the disease and get their owners sick.

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about already…

The day that rumour began, pets all over China were killed. Their terrified and misinformed owners threw them off balconies and poisoned them. One woman came down with coronavirus and while she was in the hospital, someone broke into her home and killed her cat out of fear. People began to fear that their pets would be killed in all of this. To make matters worse, British tabloids tried saying that the government was telling people that if they didn’t kill their pets, the government would. It was all nonsense… But just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean it won’t be shared and that it won’t spread like wildfire.

You wouldn’t believe the amount of misinformation I’ve seen…

Life Back in China

People out west don’t seem to really know what’s all going on. They imagine people dying in the streets and a callous government who doesn’t care if its citizens die. None of it really captures life in China at the moment.

This is Wuhan right now. These streets are usually full. China is never this quiet…

In reality, people are going stir crazy in their apartments, quarantined for safety measures. It’s difficult to get supplies at the moment because delivery companies are shut down. Finding masks and hand sanitizer has been difficult. Items like pet food and food with long shelf life is harder to find. People fill shopping carts with cheap ramen and canned goods ‘just in case’. There is limited fresh food and it runs out daily.

In Suzhou it’s been better, but most grocery stores have empty produce shelves by the end of the day.

Most public venues are still shut down and many restaurants are doing take away orders only. Some restaurants have a strict 3 person limit at each table, in an attempt to reduce crowds from forming. Malls, vets and grocery stores all have reduced hours and many apartment complexes even have curfews. In other cities, people are only allowed leaving their apartments once every few days, so really, Suzhou doesn’t even have it that bad.

People are having their temperature scanned before they can get into their own appartment complexes

Teachers and students are both struggling with online classes in a country with very closed off internet access. Students still have exams to pass but are mentally checked out, which I completely understand. No one is sure when schools will reopen in Jiangsu province, where we live. Shanghai has announced that schools will be online only through March, but each province is coming up with their own rules.

It turns out teaching in your pajamas isn’t all fun and games… Especially when you’re dealing with the great firewall of China…

Wuhan and is still overwhelmed with the sick, and short on supplies and medical workers. People are still dying every day, but the number of new deaths is starting to go down, which is a good sign. The number of recovered patients is also on the rise. Soon, we hope the latter will be the bigger number in our daily updates.

Even with 2 new hospitals being built in under 2 weeks and several public buildings being turned into care centers, it’s simply not enough… People are still left untreated in Wuhan.

We’re set to go home on February 24th. I miss my cats so much, and Poe has been quite sick, with an interestinal infection, so I’ve been extra worried about her. I also miss my friends and the comfort of my own bed. I miss normalcy.

My sweet girl

Change is in the Air

I think things are going to change in China, after all this calms down. Ideally, wet markets will become a lot more strictly run to avoid outbreaks like this from beginning in the future. I hope that the government will start taking measures to teach the general population about unsanitary practices like spitting, and force companies to put soap in all bathrooms. I also think the Chinese people trust their government a little less after all this.

Wet markets are a bad idea all around. Having love animals, uncooked (and often unrefrigerated) meat lying around alongside produce… It’s a recipe for disaster

I’m not sure if anything will change, but I know that this whole experience has changed me. Being in Langkawi had reminded me how much I miss being around nature and how much I miss having work/life balance. In China, all we really do is work, but here, we spend our free time animal watching, cruising around on our motorbike or even just swimming in our guesthouse pool. I don’t think I’d ever have time for any of that working in a country with such an intense work culture.

Being surrounded by so much green has really made me miss having nature to enjoy

Coronavirus has forced me to slow down and it’s been a good change. I’m not sure what’s in store for us in the coming few years but I can say with certainty that although life in China has been amazing… This chapter in our life is coming to an end. Before long, we’ll be onto a new adventure. We aren’t sure what that will involve yet, but I’m sure it will be grand.

There is so much more of the world to see! We really do live on a beautiful planet!

So there you have it. This is our life at the moment. Hopefully we’ll be back home on the 24th, to cuddle up with our kitties and get back into our routines.

We’re pretty sure at this point that Hugo prefers the cat sitter.
At least Oliver still loves me!!!

I still have a few posts left to write about Langkawi! They’ll be up soon!

Sneak peak: one of my posts will be all about wildlife!

CNY 2020 – Day 19 – Langkawi Cultural Craft Complex

I love fair trade. I love supporting artisans and artists. This kind of stuff was really big in Indonesia and it turns out there’s quite a bit of it on Langkawi too.

I got myself a new shaker egg to use at the next Sundaze gig

My wonderful husband knows that I love these things, so when he read that Langkawi has a Culture Craft Complex, he made sure to take me there. It’s a pretty cool place!

There are all sorts of artisans featured here

The complex has everything. Wood carving, pottery, glass blowing, textiles, clothing, jewelry… You name it, they make it!

I was particularly impressed by their paintings. We saw some of the artists working on them while we were there. Such colorful and vibrant artistic style!

There is also an educational aspect to the complex. There are several displays set up that teach you about Malaysia’s art and culture. Some displays focus on wedding attire across the various cultures found in Malaysia, and others focused on the history of Aboriginal art.

There’s also a “stingless bee farm” at the craft complex, and soap is made from the wax of these bees.

They offer glass blowing demonstrations at the craft complex too, but we happened to visit on the one day of the week they didn’t have a show.

They also have some displays showing how sugar cane juice was processed back in the day

You could easily spend hours at the craft complex, if you have some free time and a husband who doesn’t mind being dragged around to look at scarf after scarf.

The woodwork was what impressed Dave the most

We made it through in about an hour, but I think 30 minutes more would have been nice. The complex is free by the way, you only pay for what you buy… And with so many beautiful choices, you’re bound to leave with something!

They do a really good job with their displays too!

CNY 2020 – Day 18 – Langkawi’s Food Scene

One of the reasons we’ve enjoyed our stay in Langkawi so much has been because of its food scene. We’ve had very few disappointing meals. Whether you’re looking for something local or foreign, there are an endless number of restaurants to choose from.

Local Food

A tasty grilled Malay fish

Malaysian food is flavourful, colourful and diverse. Roti Canai is like a sort of Indian pancake that can be served with chocolate, fruit or curry sauce (kind of like an Asian Crepe). Nasi Lemak, Malaysia’s national dish, is made of rice soaked in coconut milk, served with dried fish, peanuts and chili sauce. Satay is a kind of bbq served with a peanut sauce. These are all traditional foods you can find in Malaysia, and they are all delicious.

Nasi Lemak: I’m in love with this dish!
Roti Canai. Soooo good! The ones with banana are my favorite
Nasi Goreng Pattaya is another delicious way rice is served in Malaysia. They wrap your fried rice in a thin egg omelette and then add sweet chili sauce
Nasi Goreng with chicken. Fried chicken is also a staple on the island. I’ve probably eaten a bit too much of this over the last few weeks

Mostly we’ve been going to small, family run places, but there are some chains too. The House of Lamb is run by local Muslim Malays and specializes in BBQ lamb and chicken skewers. They have a couple of locations on the island. We’re definitely going to be going back!

Lamb chops, lamb skewers, chicken skewers, Lamb Shank, corn, salad, potatoes and rice. A perfect combo for two!

Asian Food

Salted Duck Yolk Calamari

There are plenty of other Asian restaurants on the island, although we haven’t actually visited many of them because most Asian food is available in Suzhou. Chinese restaurants are probably the most common Asian restaurant in Langkawi, which makes sense given that in a normal year, there are tons of Chinese tourists visiting during Spring Festival. Of course, this year has been different.

Everyone is staying home because….

There are plenty of Indian, Korean, Thai and Japanese restaurants on the island too, so there definitely isn’t a lack of choice!!

Western Food

Crepes: Life

If Malaysian food is too spicy for you, or if you’re looking for something familiar, there are a few good Western options on Lankawi island as well. There are at least 2 restaurants serving crepes and both are run by French expats. There’s plenty of Italian food on the island as well, and you can even find several Mexican restaurants in Langkawi!

The Crepes at “My French Factory” are sublime!

If you’re in the mood for something out of the way and a bit more upscale, Mangoes is also a great option! It’s run by an Australian lady and you can get a great burger or even roasts and Chicken Cordon Bleu there! Good, homemade style Western food!

Dave enjoyed an enormous burger
I had the chicken cordon blue. The lighting wasn’t great, but the ambience in the restaurant was so nice. We had a view of the ocean and because we were off the main strip, it was nice and quiet.

Middle Eastern Food

So far, my favourite meals on the island have been at middle Eastern restaurants. Most of the ones we’ve seen have offered a mixture of middle Eastern dishes and my favorite restaurant has been Hadramawt.

Their lamb mendy and falafels are some of the best I’ve ever had. This restaurant is so good, in fact, that we’ve been there twice in 10 days.

Lamb Mendy is slowcooked in a way that makes the meat more tender than I really thought possible
Falafel & hummus

There are other restaurants as well that serve very tasty middle Eastern food. The Syrian restaurant we tried on one of our first nights here had some great combo plates.

An assortment of all my favourite middle Eastern appies! Yasmin restaurant was a delight.

We’ve still got some time left on this beautiful little island. We’re looking forward to all the other restaurants we’ll try!

CNY 2020 – Day 17 – Laman Padi

In the hot Malaysian heat, some days you just want to be indoors where it’s cool. That’s how we found our way down to Laman Padi this week.

This is what time looks like shortly before it’s ready for harvest

There’s quite a lot to see there, actually. They have rice paddies in various stages of growth so you can see the process of growing this grain.

You can see that the rice in the back is older than the rice in the foreground. Rice is actually a kind of grass and it becomes more yellow as it gets closer to harvest time
Rice needs lots of water to grow. Often, rice is grown on the side of hills and mountains and Farmers create little walls to trap water as it rolls down
The rice on the left is very young. Notice that it’s growing in a field with several inches of water in it

There is also a museum that teaches about the tools that are used, and tools that used to be used for farming rice. The museum is nice and cool and full of neat things to see.

A quaint little museum
Tools that were historically used in rice farming
Drying rice in the sun. Of course now, they have more efficient methods

Mostly, the Laman Padi was nice because it was quiet, there was lots of indoor space, so we could stay cool, and there was a surprising amount of wildlife there.

Egrets are often found in rice paddies
Water buffalo are still used in farming in some places and are also a common site in rice paddies
I’m not sure what kind of bird this is. Perhaps another kind of egret?
They had scarecrows to try and keep the birds away. I think the birds were onto them because they didn’t seem to care a whole lot

With an extra week away from China, we’ve been careful to budget our money a bit better. Laman Padi is free and if you’re there and keen, staff will show you around and explain things. Dave and I chose to do the tour solo though. After living in China for nearly 6 years (7 for me!), We know a lot about rice already.

Nice place got a rest!

I’ve got some fun posts about monkeys and Langkawi’s food scene coming up!! Check back soon!!!

CNY 2020 – Day 16 – Gunung Raya

Gunung Raya is the tallest peak on Langkawi island. We discovered it while driving around and exploring the island by motorbike. With beautiful views and a scenic ride up the mountain, it was a nice way to spend an hour and a half.

The open road

It takes about 30 minutes to reach the peak by motorbike. There is a nice lookout there and you get a really nice view of the island, the ocean and even Thailand in the distance. There’s some information on the myths surrounding this part of the island, as well as information about the area’s geological history.

This is the real reason to go up to the peak. Such a beautiful place to see the sun set!!

Unfortunately, whole area is pretty run down. The signs explaining the area’s geography are sun bleached, and a lot of it was actually quite difficult to read. It’s like the tourism bureau just forgot about this place…

The signs are badly sun bleached and need replacing
I couldn’t even read all of the English parts

There used to be a hotel up at the peak where people could stay. They also had restaurants in the hotel and a lookout tower to see the whole island from up high. Now it’s all abandoned and kind of spooky.

When we first drove up, I thought it was a prison.
I’m surprised no one tried to turn it into a tourist cafe or something.
I’m sure it was a beautiful hotel in its day
I’m impressed that the place hasn’t been totally vandalized at least! Just general weathering and decay.

All in all, I’d recommend the trip up to the summit if you have a motorbike. The views are pretty and you’ll likely see some wildlife (birds and monkeys are everywhere on this island). Don’t expect anything extravagant, but if you’re looking for something free that involves some stellar views, this is a great way to spend some time!

The view from right in front of the lookout tower
Beautiful!!

CNY 2020 – Day 15 – CHOGM Park

Although our mornings have been pretty lax, and we’ve been getting plenty of pool time, we’ve been trying to be more active in the evenings. Each night we try to take a walk somewhere nice. We ended up in Kuah, at a lovely little park on our 3rd night on Langkawi.

Beautiful clear skies

It’s a really nice place to go for a walk, especially at sun set. It’s right along the coast, so as the sun goes down, you get a spectacular view.

Lots of trees too!

The park isn’t super well maintained anymore but I’m sure it was beautiful in it’s time. It was set up in 1989 for a Commonwealth meeting. The park’s name CHOGM) actually stands for “Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting”.

Even though it isn’t super well maintained anymore, it’s still a nice place to go for a walk

You won’t find washrooms or food stands anywhere but entrance is free and you can go in any time. There are benches set up throughout the park and a nice pathway along the man made beach.

A little peace and beauty can go a long way when things are as crazy as they have been.

Nice little pathway
A relaxed cat, enjoying the sunset

Day 14 – Same Same, but Different

One of the cool things about traveling is that you get to see all the different varieties and flavors each country has.  A good example of that is India’s Maharaja Mac.  They don’t eat beef in India so McDonalds had to come up with an alternative to the Big Mac.  This chicken burger was the solution.

Dave tried it and liked it a lot!  It was too spicy for me!
Subway in Singapore also had variations in their local menu!

South East Asia has all sorts of flavors that Canada doesn’t… And sometimes I don’t understand why we haven’t brought these flavors out west!  The cookies and cream dairy milk found in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines is one of many examples.

Sooo tasty!!!

In Singapore they also have salted caramel Magnum bars, which are to die for!!

My first treat in Singapore!

There are some strange variations too. Salted egg yolk is a really common flavour in this part of the world. You can get salted egg yolk calamari, crab and even potato chips!

I’ve heard they’re pretty good!  We tried the salted egg yolk calamari and that was REALLY good!

There are other strange flavors of chips too!

Also…chips made of chicken and fish skin
Chili crab is basically Singapore’s National dish. It doesn’t surprise me that they have these as chips!

Popcorn is also a lot more variable than you’d imagine. I’m a fan of good old fashioned butter and salt, but in Asia, they have all sorts of sweet popcorn.

This one actually sounds pretty good

Even quick meals are more diverse in Malaysia! Back home we have Mr. Noodles and Kraft Dinner but they go beyond that here:

This is brilliant!
They even come in a bowl, unlike the packaged food I’ve seen in North America (which were convenient for hiking and camping but not if you’re hungry and on the go)

Of course, I can’t forget about candy! We make a point of bringing back strange candies for our nieces and nephews every year. They seem to enjoy trying new stuff!

Dunno if I’ve ever seen anything like this in Canada!
Hazel nut and green tea kit cats…

Every once in a while I find “normal” stuff from back home too. China doesn’t have a lot of imported foods so when I find sour cream and onion chips, I get excited!!!

I’d settle for Lay’s if I had to but…..
They even have Ruffles!!!
I’ve never seen anything like this in China. They have their own version of jerky, which is also quite tasty…. It’s just different

Traveling is fun! Who knows what we’ll see next!

CNY – Day 13 – Settling In

The last leg of this trip is being spent in Langkawi; an island in North Western peninsular Malaysia. We chose this island because the rainy season isn’t as bad here as it is on the east coast.

We’ve visited 4 destinations in this trip. Langkawi (top left) is our final stop

When we planned out this holiday, we were going to be staying in Langkawi from January 30th to February 6th. Of course, all of that has changed with the virus. Schools are now closed until the 17th (originally we went back to work on the 10th) and we don’t want to go back to China until we need to, for obvious reasons. So, we decided to stick around Langkawi until around the 14th instead.

Our setting during this stressful time…

All jokes aside, we have no idea how long we’re going to be here. A lot of different factors are at play. On one hand, our cats are being looked after and we can get pretty much everything we need here in Langkawi. The virus is still spreading in China, and doesn’t look like it’s going to relent very soon. Solid reasons to stay away.

And I mean… This is our back yard at the moment…

On the other hand, I don’t want to leave our cats for too long (I miss them so much!!!). My teaching responsibilities are resuming on time, although the school is staying closed until the 17th. I’ll be teaching online, which is a bit of a problem because my laptop is back in Suzhou.

Oliver misses me almost as much as I miss him!!

At this point, we’re just playing it all by ear. I think 5 weeks is the maximum I want to be away from the cats (that’s the longest we’ve ever been away from them), plus, life sort of needs to go on. Suzhou is quite safe and the virus hasn’t caused any deaths there. There are 54 cases total, and the virus hasn’t spread as quickly in Suzhou as in other places. We’ll be ok when we go back… The question is simply: “when?”

Suzhou is still a ghost town. Normally, you would see cars on the streets and people walking around. Right now though, people are staying indoors. (My friend Li took this photo. She’s still in Suzhou, waiting out the virus)

So, until Feb 15th at least, we are staying put. We can do laundry here and the guesthouse where we’re staying is owned by some really nice people. We have a pool and we rented a motorbike so we can get around easily enough. Food in the area is cheap and Malaysia hasn’t been hit hard by the virus. Malaysia has only actually had 8 cases so far, and all of them were Chinese nationals. We’ve chosen a very good place to ride this out.

Dave doing laundry in a very old machine. Still, it’s free and we can do our own laundry, which is nice. Plus, the Malaysian Sun dries our clothes in about 2 hours!

As far as relaxing here goes… We’re about as chill as we can be. Dave is still working and studying, and I’m getting ready to start making the video lessons that my students will watch from the safety of their homes. There are lots of beautiful birds in Langkawi and we’ve seen plenty of lizards too. We even saved one from drowning in the pool the other day!!

Poor little guy was startled when we came out of our room and ran straight into the pool! He couldn’t swim very well and couldn’t grab onto the side to get out so Dave basically splashed him out with a big handful of water. He just sat there in the sun for a few minutes, catching his breath. Poor little dude!

Between work, school and keeping up with the news, we’re making the most of our time here! I’ve got plenty more to write about so check back soon!

Dave, busy at work

CNY 2020 – Day 12 – Airports & Coronovirus

Airports are a bit scary at the moment. They’re where you are most likely to run into someone with Coronovirus, and airplanes circulate the same air throughout the flight, and you notice everyone that is coughing, sneezing or sniffling as you get into the plane. You’re breathing their sniffles for the flight. Fun fact.

Fun with surgical masks!
Did he just sneeze???
Why didn’t he cover his mouth!!!!!????

We left the jungle early to make sure we’d make it to the airport in time, so I decided to do a bit of walking around to try and find some back up masks and extra hand sanitizer (we are meeting up with a friend in Lankowi who needs them too because she, like so many others, hasn’t been able to locate any). Unfortunately all I saw was this:

I saw this everywhere…..

Shelves were completely empty of anything that disinfects…

These were 4 different types of sanitizer. All gone.
Dettol wipes: sold out
Hand sanitizer: sold out
Everything else was in stock, but anything involving sanitization is gone

I did manage to find some vitamin C and some hand wipes in the end, but I think I basically bought the last hand wipes in the entire airport.

We have plenty of this stuff back in Suzhou too.

Back in China, the government has began fining anyone who is trying to overcharge for these basic essentials during this outbreak. One man in Beijing is being fined 3 million RMB for this crime.

The guy in Beijing isn’t the only one to try this either….

Once in Lankawi, we found a big bottle of hand sanitizer for both us and my friend. We also stocked up on arrival masks in a small town outside KL (where people aren’t as worried and the masks are easier to find).

500ml should last us a while.

Over all, even with The Who declaring a global state of emergency (several hours after saying it WASN’T a global emergency….) I’m still not in panic mode.

Statistics like this keep me calm

Still, things are still uncertain for us on this side of the world. When we left China, we had no idea that we might not be coming back as planned. We packed what we needed for our 19 days of travel, and we packed light. We have 3 cats at home who are being cared for, but it’s scary knowing that our cat sitter could be banned from entering the complex at any point. As it is, many apartment complexes won’t allow anyone in until they have been tested for fevers. That’s the lengths cities are going to to try and prevent this virus from spreading further.

This sign was posted outside a friend’s apartment complex. Basically if you don’t live in that complex, you’re not allowed in.

So, we’ll continue with the “wait and see” approach and hope that it’ll all turn out fine. At least we got ahold of some masks, sanitizer and vitamin C.