Penang, Malaysia is a city in the northern part of Malaysia, not far from Phuket, Thailand. It is home to an old English fort and a town called Georgetown. It is an incredibly diverse island with great views, delicious food, and welcoming people. We stayed on the north side of the island at the Flamingo Hotel by the Beach. (Not recommended.)
We did not get to do most of the itinerary I had planned out because poor Owen got very sick on the plane ride from HCMC to Kuala Lumpur. We spent our first day mostly in the hotel room and the second day (Christmas Eve) was spent in the hospital because Owen was very dehydrated. Fortunately, an IV drip and a day of rest helped him bounce back and we were able to go up Penang Hill on our third, and last, day.
I've had the opportunity to visit the Ben Thanh Market a couple of times this week to do some Christmas shopping for the folks back home and our kids. This place is intense and a must see in HCMC. Walking around this market is quite the experience. Each stall is it's very own little shop, and they are very competitive. A lot of shops sell pretty much the same things, and haggling is a must at all the interior stalls. If bargaining isn't your thing, you can stick to the outer stalls, but you will end up paying more. A friend of ours made a wonderful statement while we shopped the other day. She noted that the vendors will not sell you something if they aren't still making some sort of profit. I've found it's best to start at about 25% of their asking price. It sounds ridiculous, but I got Derek's gift for just that. And don't be afraid to walk away... the next stall will probably have more of the same stuff.
Derek and I wanted to do something special with Owen today, so we took him to a giant amusement park here in Saigon. It is located in District 9, but it is just a ways up the Hanoi Highway from us. I read that it can be really crowded on weekends, so we opted for a Monday morning visit. Plus, then Oliver could chill with the nanny because we didn't really know if it would be appropriate for a two-year old.
Turns out, the place is deserted on Monday mornings. I'm pretty sure there were more employees than paying visitors. In the amusement park area, it was very quiet (minus the blaring loud-speakers), and in the water park area, we were literally the only people there. The only ones. It was a little awkward.
Owen got to jump in a bounce castle, then we rode a paddle boat around a lake filled with fish and watched some kids zip-line over us. Along the way we saw some very interesting decorations: elephant tusks coming from the ground, giant pieces of anthropomorphic fruit, and a ridiculous number of Buddha statues.
Then we found the crocodiles. Hundreds upon hundreds of crocodiles. And we got there right at feeding time. There was a group of guys with crates of dead fish walking around the shore of the enclosure dumping the fish in for the crocodiles. Their only protection against these huge beasts was a stick. Not a job I would want.
Walking around later, we got to see the holding tanks for dozens on baby crocodiles as well as a separate enclosure for the poor crocs that had lost tails. There were also several types of monkeys snacking on fruit. They animals here seemed to be in much better condition than the ones we saw at the zoo over the summer.
They supposedly have dolphins as well, but the map that they give you is pretty useless. We couldn't find them, and Owen was pretty tired of walking by this point. So we headed around the grounds to the water park area. On our way, we saw an ice castle, more massive Buddhist statutes, and very few people.
The water park area was massive and could have easily accommodated over a thousand guests, but there were only three: Derek, Owen, and me. It was weird. I think next time we will arrange to go with a group. Owen had a blast splashing around and going down every single slide he was allowed to go down.
Overall, it was a fun day out. There was a lot of construction going on--just right out in the open, so watch your step. It was relatively clean: as far as parks in Asia go. The locker room at the water park was pretty gross, but I never feared for my safety. I even think we will bring Ollie next time we go.
Owen had his first school music program this morning. It was very well done considering there were over a hundred children all under the age of 7. His group (pre-kindergarten) sang two songs complete with gestures. Thanks to our re-arranged exam schedule, I was lucky enough to get over and watch him. You can watch a bit of the performance here.
It was fun to watch him without him knowing I was there. He was goofing around a little bit with one of his buddies and had to get scolded by a teacher. He stopped right away, of course, but it was good to see him being so playful. I wonder if he gets in trouble often...
He was delighted to see that I had been there to watch him. I got a great big hug and kiss!
We moved into a new apartment! We are now surrounded by other expats and bunches of expat kids. The swimming pools are beautiful, there is a great work out facility with daily yoga classes, and we can now walk to work. I am so happy we made this happen!
The move itself was a little rough. Derek and I had to take a personal day off work because our old apartment complex wouldn't let us move out on a weekend. Then the new apartment was not ready for us on Monday morning. It hadn't been cleaned and we were missing a bunch of furniture that had been agreed upon in the contract. After a bit of arguing with the landlord, he finally agreed to order the remaining furniture. For some reason, contracts don't seem to matter much here. My recommendation: get it in writing, get it signed, get it stamped, and stick to your guns and all will be okay.
As far as the apartment and complex go, we are incredibly happy. It is so clean and quiet. And we feel safer. And I can not even begin to describe how nice it is to bump into people we know at the pool or market. It's only been a few days, but I am positive that this is a better fit for our family.
We have a great view of the Saigon River and the other side of the river is mostly undeveloped and very green. It is so much nicer to wake up to a river and green and a highway and grey. The apartment is much more modern and just feels a lot cleaner than the old place.
It's been quite the journey to find our "home" abroad, but I think we're here now.