Tag Archives: Australia

Summertime Blues

Almost unanimously, the most frequent question posed by most of our Facebook friends and blog readers is How’s the weather in Malaysia?” Always responding “Hot and Humid”, the next thing they want to know is “How do you get used to the heat?”. Generally speaking, you don’t. Those born and raised in Canada or other cold weather climates never really feel comfortable walking around with piles of sweat beads dripping down their faces. Frequently turning down my offer of afternoon walks around our town, Diane often chooses the afternoon balcony breeze while I endure the blazing heat. Remembering my childhood summer days in Brooklyn, an August afternoon stroll around Batu Ferrenghi often beckons memories of the “Triple H Days” (hazy, hot and humid). Unfortunately, I’m the antsy type and unless I’m sick, there’s nothing worse to me than sitting in the condo from the minute I wake up until the moment I go to sleep.

imageThankfully, Malaysia gets a handful of days in any given year that defy the norm. Occasionally blessed with a crystal clear blue sky accompanied by lower humidity (by tropical standards), the other day we enjoyed startlingly low 58% humidity and a sky similar to the most beautiful western Canadian summer days. Granted the temperature still hovered near 90 and the “real feel” was higher but when you’re used to sweating every day, any small reprieve is always appreciated. Usually empty even on weekends, the beautiful skies brought out throngs of sunbathers to our condo pool and I even opted to lay in the sun. Coincidentally, the day coincided with the opening of the annual month-long Georgetown Festival and after basking in the sunshine like normal westerners on a glorious mid summer day, we headed off to the festival’s first event, The Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow. Making its second appearance in Penang, the 2015 version was surprisingly funny and they held it at the beautiful Performing Arts Center of Penang so we anticipated an entertaining and fun-filled evening.

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Trading Hours

Before we even knew we slept, morning broke on the Tasmanian horizon and as promised, we hopped out of bed and prepared for the hard but rewarding experience of “trading” at Salamanca Market. Only having arrived the afternoon before, Ann already put us to work peeling 88 pounds of beetroot (simply known as “beets” in the USA and Canada) before dinner. Still tired from touring Melbourne, we wiped the slumber away and brewed a cup of strong coffee in the little one cup plunger Ann supplied us with in the lunchroom.

Dawn breaks in Tasmania

Thinking I’d have to go to work smelly, I forgot Tasmania is probably further south of the equator than Edmonton is north of it so fortunately the dawn breaks almost two hours earlier than Penang and by 5:15 AM there’s plenty of light to make your way from the small cabin into the bathroom (about 200 feet away) for a quick shower. Incredibly lucky with the weather, we may have picked the best week of the Southern summer and our day at the market was warm and sunny with very little wind. At 6:15 on the dot, Ann emerged from the main house and we all piled into the Market Buggy.

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Way Down Under

Having its merits, traveling is great but there’s nothing like the comforts of home, even if “home” is 7,000 miles away from your real hometown. Relaxed and rested, Diane and I returned from Australia a week earlier than planned. Having experienced our first attempt at a “working vacation”, we discovered three things we already knew but rarely admit. First, cubicle life is a piece of cake compared to most physical work. Second, those vendors you see at the local farmer’s markets work harder than anyone sitting behind a computer (yes, financial advisers and lawyers may work longer hours but they don’t set up the office and then take it apart again ). Finally, they call it “work” and not “play” for a reason. Many workaway hosts remind potential candidates that those seeking vacations and tourism opportunities should look elsewhere. Before the 20-something crowd that forms most of the work exchange volunteers rips us apart as being old farts, let me clarify. As assignments go, this one is certainly not challenging like creating a new water source for third world villages or grueling like planting and picking crops in the hot tropical sun and it doesn’t need much brain power like forming lesson plans for kids in English classes. Quite the opposite, this place is actually fun and I’m telling you up front you’ll probably never get two hosts as generous as Ann and Bill who keep the beer and wine flowing and gave us home cooked meals that rival any bed and breakfast. But for us, it was still work and ten days was just perfect for us.

Our first look at “Tassie” from the airport

Fresh off a week of tourism in Melbourne, we had no idea what to expect as we boarded the plane for the short one hour flight on Jet Star, the discount arm of Quantas. Noting one major difference from what we’re used to, security on domestic flights in Australia is lax at best. Unbelievably, other than the x-ray machine for carry on luggage, nobody asked for any form of ID or even a boarding pass right up until boarding time. Obviously not caring what happens within their country, transporting liquids, gels, plants, food or anything else is perfectly fine as long as your flight doesn’t leave the Australian continent. Making the return much easier, we simply carried all our liquid condiments we bought from TassieTasteBuds (our host’s business) in a plastic bag before repacking them in our main luggage in Melbourne for the flight back to Malaysia.

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Australian Adventures

Having completed our first Workaway gig, I’m anxious to share everything with my awesome readers. But we’re back in Melbourne for a few days and today is the last day before lots of rain is on the way so we’re off to another day trip today to see The Great Ocean Road. Please bear with us a few more days and then I promise to get everyone caught up. Making a long story short, the work was fun at times, sometimes tedious and a bit harder than we expected thanks mostly to the gardening aspect and the enormous hill that the property lies on. Our hosts were probably the most generous people you’d ever get doing one of these and kept us happy with world-class dinners every night, free-flowing wine and beer and groceries to make breakfast. The accommodation was about what it looked like: a bit rustic for seasoned hotel people like us but comfortable enough to sleep well after each day’s work. Getting three days off out of ten we managed to visit Port Arthur and Bruny Island which was enough tourism and luckily the changeable weather cooperated with mild days and comfortable nights. All in all, an excellent experience but unlike the 20 somethings, we find traveling tiring and returning to work after two years (8 months for Diane) was certainly harder than the cubicle but also more rewarding.


Cheers for now and please watch for our full posts later this week when we return to Penang


G’Day from Down Under

Apologizing for the long delay between posts, here we are in Tasmania at our first ever work exchange. So far it’s been very enriching, enjoyable and delicious. Briefly put, our hosts Anne and Bill are perhaps the most generous people anywhere on the entire Workaway.org program and that says a lot since there’s over 30,000 different hosts worldwide.  But more on that later. Time flies by and the hours slip away so I’m sneaking in a quick post on our first week in Australia and I’ll post much more about the work exchange after we get back to Penang. Lucky enough to have an old friend of Diane’s living in the southeastern Melbourne suburbs, we landed at Melbourne for a week of exploring the big city before heading to Tasmania. Not the best Air Asia experience, for some reason they use the oldest and crappiest looking planes in the fleet to fly the longest haul routes. Cramped seats and an annoying staff that seemed irritated made the seven hour flight overnight flight acceptable but nothing like a transcontinental flight on Cathay Pacific where everyone sleeps and the crew doesn’t make announcements every hour telling you how much longer the flight will last. But since the other options like Quanta or Singapore Air fall outside our budget, we settled in and slept as much as possible before arriving   in the strange and fascinating continent known as Australia.

The real Tasmanian Devil

The real Tasmanian Devil

The first ting we noticed about Australia jumped right out at us upon arriving at the amazingly modern but very busy airport in Melbourne. Australians are friendly. Very very friendly. And polite. Thrown by this strange attitude that conflicts drastically with much of the large British expat population in Penang, I’d say they’re so friendly they make Canadians look rude. And that’s saying a lot. Going out of their way to help you, everyone volunteers to help in any way they can, they strike up conversations on the long line to get out of the airport and the only way to annoy an Aussie is doing something rude like jumping the queue which elicits a firm but non threatening reminder that this isn’t America and everyone should obey the rules. Politely of course. Oh yes, don’t even attempt to bring anything that even resembles food into Australia from a simple bag of chips to fresh fruit and that includes packaged and processed goods from your home country unless you enjoy heading to a separate line where they train food sniffing dogs to catch violators. Do what we did and bring your friends a Malaysian cookbook or some other local souvenir.

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Short Memory Span

As November looms, the air quality has improved throughout Malaysia thanks mostly to some much-needed rain and help from a large Russian firefighting plane that Indonesia finally agreed to use. After international outrage, they appear to be making a serious effort to extinguish the raging infernos that destroyed the environment (again). Finally receiving some international attention, all that really happened was the Indonesian press publicized some more arrests of élite CEO’s, apologized a bit more to neighboring countries, and no doubt sent back evacuated residents of Borneo and Sumatra so they can continue farming millions of acres for paper, pulp and most importantly, palm oil production. Anyone that thinks the arrests of a few billionaires serves any purpose other than PR is fooling themselves. In my mind, the long-term solutions that might actually force Indonesia to practice sustainable agricultural practices and stop destroying the earth and the shortening the life span of over 80 million citizens in SE Asia are as follows:

  • Kick the companies responsible off all the exchanges and fine them so many billions of dollars that they’re forced to reorganize until no intelligent institutional shareholder on earth will buy their stock. This is the only thing business tycoons understand.
  • Lower the worldwide demand for Palm oil products produced by Indonesian companies through large-scale boycotts that include the public and mega companies that use their products. Social media is a good start and was unavailable as a weapon the last time they destroyed the earth this heavily in 1997.

Sadly, the odds of either one of these solutions occurring on a scale large enough to make 2016 any better are slim. Even worse, every time the skies improve, everyone here in Southeast Asia takes off their stupid medical masks, returns to patronizing outdoor businesses and once again ignores the entire two month episode like it never happened. Remaining its own worse enemy, complacency and an unwillingness to use the parts of democracy that make a real difference in daily life like large-scale peaceful protests, intelligent but critical media coverage and demanding better from democratically elected leaders that are always supported by the voters will no doubt keep this “annual event” going long into the future.


As visitors, expats have no say and it’s not our job to criticize the host nations since all sovereign countries have a right to police their own borders the way they see fit. Knowing this, I’ve tried to do my part to spread the word as much as possible to the western world that’s largely unaware of how much closer we are to killing the planet for our grandkids. Indirectly, another way to grab attention is graphically show how threatened wildlife that’s endemic to specific ares are suffering. In case you missed the story, I’m reposting a story that went around Facebook a few days ago. Please help keep this issue in the minds of the world by sharing or donating. Do it for the orangutans even if you care little about how developing nations get half the products on your supermarket shelf into your shopping basket. Here’s the post:

A CRISIS WE CANNOT IGNORE! This is the worst threat in a century to people, orangutans, and other wildlife in … and the Western media is not even mentioning it! The following message came in from the director of a sanctuary for orangutans in Borneo. Please take the time to read it and help:

We have fires in forests which are full of orangutans. We have rescued 4 orangutans in Pelansi in the last couple of weeks and have just rescued another male near the centre. Our Human-orangutan conflict teams are currently following 3 more orangutans at risk in other locations. The situation is just getting worse and worse … We are going to need lots more people, equipment and funds to combat fires, the worst is to come…
I hope we can send the message out about the situation here.

In central Kalimantan, forests which are home to the two main populations of orangutans are on fire.
We will keep you updated as we receive more news…
If you can make a donation to our team who are in the field saving orangutans from the devastating effects of the fires, please help! http://www.internationalanimalrescue.org/donate


Our Stuff Arrives (Almost)

After what feels like an eternity, our 29 boxes of personal goods finally arrived in Penang a few days ago on a mid-sized container ship from Thailand known as the Bani Bhun. Transferred twice from its original vessel in both Shanghai and Penang, tracking the journey of one small-sized less than container (LCL) shipment was almost more difficult than obtaining the MM2H visa. Picked up by truck from a storage locker in Walnut Creek, California on September 5th, we paid $1,200 plus a wire transfer fee to a shipping company based in Los Angeles and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Arriving long after the original estimate, the process of collecting your goods on Malaysia was totally foreign and very different from receiving goods in North America. Assigning the shipment to local logistics company, the first vendor in the chain does nothing but charge you to remove the goods from the arriving vessel and “unstuff” them into a warehouse. Passed to someone known as a “forwarding agent”, the goods are supposedly checked by customs and then put on a lorry and delivered. For this part, our agent came to meet us last night and insisted in being paid in cash (1,400 ringgit).

imageEnsuring we followed the Malaysian customs’ rules regarding detailed descriptions of every box and serial numbers for electronic items, this gave our agent confidence that he’d be able to stick to his promise of four days from the time the vessel arrive to our doorstep. Realistically, it’s probably because the logistics agent only allows four days of free storage in the warehouse so our guy no doubt goes to work convincing his buddies at customs to work faster. Knowing Malaysians, we’re confident our boxes will make it here despite the thirty minutes he spent talking about all the potential barriers like not being able to arrive at the security gate by the 5 PM deadline they impose for forwarding agents. Assuring him I’d carry all the boxes in myself if need be, it wouldn’t be Malaysia without the discussion which usually leads to a guy “knowing someone”‘ who can help. Bringing his wife along, our agent was friendly and speaks English well enough to negotiate through the processes so hopefully this is my last post from an IPad. Naturally, that assumes our 110 volt PC really works when we switch the button to 240 volts. Assuming we don’t short-circuit the electrical grid in this “developing nation”, I’m hoping our next communication comes compliments of my old Windows Vista operating system and under breathable skies. Unfortunately, the haze may return once the wind shifts again and since nobody’s ever seen it stick around into the holiday season, it’ll be interesting to see Phuket’s busiest tourism season ruined by an event happening almost 3,000 kilometers and two countries away. Here’s to hoping that never materializes.

Post Script:

We’re off to a three-week escape to Thailand next month thanks to our first Airbnb bookings. Averaging $30 for 15 nights in two different places, it seems like a great chance to explore Chiang Mai as a possible next address as well as getting some beach time in Hua Hin.

Additionally, the owner of a small condiments business in Tasmania generously offered to host us for our first Workaway assignment in January so we’re booked for four weeks in Australia. Making a stop in Melbourne first where we’ll visit one of Diane’s Facebook friends, the assignment seems like more fun than work and gives us the chance to explore an island many people never get to visit. 

Cheers. Thanks for reading.