Those of us old enough to remember school essays that were actually written with pen and paper probably had to do at least one standard version of “How I spent my summer vacation”. Here in the tropics it’s always summer and Malaysia is one of the few tropical nations sandwiched between two influential monsoon weather patterns which means there’s not really any seasons here with the possible exception of January through March when it’s almost always very dry. Usually planning vacations in Southeast Asia around wet and dry season, we hardly ever know what month it is here and were it not for internet radio and social media, we’d probably have no clue that summer is winding down. Celebrated as the last official weekend of summer, Labor Day marks back to school for North Americans but here in Malaysia, the end of August ushers in a slew of holidays celebrating everything from Malaysian Independence to the most important Hindu Festival of the year known as Deepavali.
As seasoned expats (all of 14 months), we’re not as inclined to investigate each festival because most expats check out whatever local holidays have to offer in their first year and decide which ones are worth coming back for. Sadly, very few Penang events are worth writing home about as far as we’re concerned so as we settle into our daily lives and try to save our cash for travel, we usually avoid the crowds associated with most holidays. Living in the nation’s most popular beach resort town means withering large crowds on public holidays but unlike the big city, big parades and spectacles are not really part of the festivities for most Malaysian holidays. Indian and Chinese holidays do have more glitz but Chinese New Year 2016 was amazingly devoid of fanfare In Penang and many locals blamed a weakened local economy combined with the first full year after the government implemented the GST (goods and services tax). Choosing to spend the Merdeka holiday with the island’s non human population of mostly friendly monkeys held more appeal to me than hanging out on crowded beaches anyway so that’s exactly what I did.
Arriving right on time, Oscar pulled up to the driveway Saturday morning, unloaded his equipment and began the great yard cleanup project. Armed with only one assistant that spoke no English, a leaf blower, chainsaw and some rakes, he skillfully and methodically cut, trimmed, chopped and cleaned the overgrown mess that cluttered our entire property. Deemed necessary by our real estate agent, we finally began the first step towards the move to Malaysia and mimicked the other residents of our middle class neighborhood . Giving in to suburban yard sprawl, we shirked our responsibilities as we learned them growing up and paid someone else to do it.
Crows escaping the carnage
Recalling my recent post with the “before ” pictures, , the “after” pictures speak almost as powerfully as a small town devastated by a tornado. Uncovering spots of the property long covered and overgrown, the back yard looked like one of those post-apocalyptic movie sets where the humans are gone and the plants and animals took over. Destroying hundreds of precious hidden items, countless nuts and other wintertime storage goodies were swept away, leaving who knows how many squirrels heading for the small animal soup kitchen. Uncovering the entire quarter acre of property as the day went by, we watched in awe as four years of garden neglect went up in leaf blowing smoke.
The Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah province, Malaysian Borneo
Needing some R&R after trekking through the jungle, we needed a little pampering and a couple of good night’s sleep before continuing to Singapore. Normally we’re prudent travelers but early retirement still seemed distant since I had no vision of being laid off, so we investigated a more luxurious option and discovered even the world’s best hotel chains have an undiscovered hidden gem. Along with the beauty ofThe Rasa Ria Resort Resort,one last adventure with orangutans on the resort’s private reserve solidified the entire experience.
Honestly, we had no idea we’d ever step foot again in Malaysia, even if was the Peninsular Mainland. The expat destination research vacation of 2011 was actually intended to fulfill our insatiable desire for a close encounter with Malaysia’s best endemic animal in the wild: the orangutan. The Borneo Rainforest Lodge met and exceeded our every expectation and then some. Continue reading →