Sunday, October 4, 2009

Shipwreck Treasures

Shipwreck at Mossel Bay....This picture was taken just a few days before I left South Africa... little did I know then the change in direction our life's journey was about to take!

My Shipwreck Treasure

Sunrise over Mossel Bay... "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

I never cease to be surprised by the lessons God teaches us with when we least expect them. This morning, as I was getting ready for church, I had one of those experiences. I'm writing about it so that I won't forget... also just maybe, it will be meaningful to someone else.

In Malaysia, I was introduced to Tradewind Treasures...a company that makes beautiful jewellery from historic porcelain shards which have lain for centuries on the bottom of the South China Sea. These shards were once part of the sunken cargo from ships that traveled along the Silk Route. The first time I saw the jewellery, I decided that I'd love to have a piece as a memento of my time in Asia. So before leaving, I splurged and purchased what I thought was a bit of Asian history. Little did I know then, that my pendant with the Double Happiness waves design recovered from the Desaru Shipwreck would have meaning and symbolism to me way beyond the 19th century Qing Dynasty.

Though I bought this treasure in April, I only just wore it for the first time this morning. To my surprise as I put it on, my mind was immediately flooded with analogies and symbolism of truths much, much more ancient than the 1830 shipwreck.This pendant is a perfect symbol of hope to me. Crazy that all that follows came from simply putting on a necklace, but praise God that he keeps encouraging me over and over with this most beautiful word...Hope!

First of all, the pendant came from a shipwreck which is exactly what my life would be without Jesus. Like a ship at sea, I can be blown to and fro by the stormy winds of life, and at times, even overcome by raging waters that threaten to take my last bit of joy... peace...even my very breath away. Without Jesus who is more than able to calm the most treacherous of storms in my life, I'd be going down without a prayer of hope... just like the covered wine bowl my jewellery was made of did in the cargo hold of the Desaru.

Next, I thought about how this porcelain a treasure, had once been lost... just like me! How blessed I am that Jesus values not only me, but each and every person in the whole world, and will stop at nothing to find his children and bring us home to be with him eternally. The parables of the lost sheep, Luke 15:4, and the lost coins, Luke 15:8, encourage me and help me to know this amazing truth.

Another analogy that came to mind this morning was how my life, just like my pendant, without God's grace was broken... full of sin and without the value it had been created to have. Fortunately, Jesus' sacrifice has made it possible for me to be beautiful and truly precious in God's eyes once again....simply illustrated just as this jewellery had been transformed by a craftsman from a mere shard from a common everyday bowl into a treasure worthy to be displayed in a national museum.

One last thought I had was about the pattern of "Double Happiness"....meaning even more than happy which just so happens to be the meaning of "blessed"! It truly is a gift from God to be able to experience hope and joy regardless of outward circumstances. We are truly "blessed" to be called his children, joint heirs with Jesus Christ. To God, no other treasures on earth can even begin to compare to his shipwreck!

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P.S. This post was written 3 months ago (October 4)... and never published as I wasn't quite sure... not sure what I wasn't sure about... I think I was afraid of sounding too preachy or something. As I reread it this morning (January 3)... the first time I've been to my blog since Sam was laid off and we've moved home... I decided to publish it with a prayer that maybe the truths God put on my heart then would encourage others as they once again encouraged me this morning. So much loss has happened in the short time we've been home... dear friends have lost mothers, granddaughters... friends of friends have lost wives, babies...lost jobs, lost relationships, lost opportunities...
Praise God that so long as the sun rises, there will never be a loss of HOPE.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

New Friends

It's October already which means it's time for a new travelogue. September did include some beautiful sights, and I do have some pictures that I promise to post very soon for the pleasure of my vicarious adventurers, but more than anything it was a month about people and relationships rather than about places.

All of our new friendships have been such a comfort and joy. Sam and I joined the American Association of South Africa in Capetown on an outing to a local winery and learned how to prepare a yummy winter meal. We've spent several Saturdays hiking with the Walk-a-bouts, a hiking club we were warmly welcomed into. Sundays have been special as we've found our church home, a vibrant loving part of God's family meeting at Common Ground Church. And finally, all of the Smith International families have returned from their holidays and we've enjoyed several fun gatherings as we strive to make new homes away from our homes.

Whew, all that by way of an introduction! Though these new friendships are special and deserve a blog post of their own, who I really want to write about today is my new friend, Maria, a beautiful Godly woman, delightful neighbor, and also the wife of a co-worker of Sam's who's been an incredible blessing to me this past month. It's hard to believe but the threads of our friendship and the hope and encouragement it has brought to both of us actually began in Singapore almost 72 years ago.

I know I may have lost you on that last sentence! Let me try to explain this amazing story of how God weaves our lives together..."working everything out for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose" Romans 8:28

In September 2007, I accompanied Sam on a business trip to Singapore. He spent the week in classes while I spent the week exploring. It was quite an adventure for a rookie world traveler like me. I enjoyed museums, gardens, and shopping, but my favorite sight of all was "The Gate of Hope". There was just something about this place that touched my heart and ministered to my soul. Just before the trip, we'd learned that Vanessa was expecting our precious Riley Lynn...not unwelcome, but unplanned. Our hearts were heavy knowing how difficult the path would be. Strolling around the grounds of this former convent and orphanage that had been a home to so many children somehow comforted me and filled me with hope in a way I can't quite explain.

The Gate of Hope

Try to read the fine print on this plaque... you'll see why later in the blog.

The chapel on the convent grounds.

Fast forward to September 2009. As soon as Maria returned from her holidays in the states, we began getting to know each other, sharing as we walked along the seawall. One day she shared that her mother, born to a Chinese family, had been placed in an orphanage because of a superstition about girls who were born in the year of the tiger being bad luck. (Do you remember reading about that on the plaque above?) Her mom was later adopted by a Christian family. She then shared that her mom had married at a young age and immediately had 3 children. Maria was the oldest. Her parents had struggled and eventually divorced placing Maria and her brother in the same orphanage her mom had been brought to as a baby because they were unable to care for them. Maria, my new friend, had walked through The Gate of Hope when she was 6 years old and spent most of her childhood there.

Her story and my own Gate of Hope experience have once again given me just a glimpse of how purposeful random things in our life can be. My heart is filled with hope when I think of what God did to bless Maria, the daughter of an orphan and an orphan herself for a time. Truly, truly, truly, I'm so thankful for God's provision, encouragement, and faithfulness to keep his promises and cannot imagine life without the relationships with family and friends that he has blessed me with...both old and new.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Baby Steps to the End

There are moments in life when random things just kind of come together and deeper meaning is revealed in a way that I just have to believe isn't randomness at at all.

A couple of months ago, while reading a friends blog, I discovered the link to something called The Happiness Project. I was intrigued, clicked on it, read a bit, and decided that this was something good and subscribed to it.

Last week, my mom, who is new to the Internet world, successfully forwarded me a message that had been sent to her by a lifelong neighbor and friend. She told me how special it was and really encouraged me to take a look at it.

Back to The Happiness Project... It had been a challenging couple of days. Some days are like that! The issues I was dealing with seemed too big...that's when I read on the Project page about what I call baby steps, or a Japanese concept called "Kaizen". It's a way of achieving continuous improvement by taking baby steps...not really a new concept, but it was presented in a different sort of way and was one that I needed to be reminded of. The timing was perfect and helped me deal with my current worries in a realistic achievable way.

Finally, I had the time to check out Mom's mail and that's when these 2 seemingly random things came together in a perfect me perspective, inspiration and encouragement. Not to published, nor to be morbid, I'm working on writing what I hope my eulogy might someday be. Once I'm finished, I'm going to spend some quiet time being honest ...assessing if I'm living life, my "DASH" in a way I want to be remembered for. Jumping ahead, I already know the answer to that question. I have plenty of room for improvement! With God's grace and the help and encouragement of family and friends, I'll be taking baby steps to the end.

Wow! Talk about stopping me in my tracks. As I rereading my newly published post, I noticed the date and was vividly reminded with a flashback to the billowing Twin Towers of the value of a single day. Maybe, an appropriate baby step would be to live today like it was my end... the end of my "DASH" which might require taking huge giant leaps if there are things I've been putting off or want to be sure to do.... time to ponder and reflect.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

August Recap

Time flies! It's hard to believe that Sam and I've been in Cape Town 2 months now...for me, that's half the entire time I spent in KL! This posting is to once again give a very brief pictorial recap of the month. For my readers who don't choose to succumb to the crazy addictive world of facebook, here's the link to my latest album.
Just click on it , or as my mom says, "poke it" and it should give you a peek into our world. We love having you travel along with us and sharing in our adventures.

A view of our apartment building looking across Bantry Bay. Ours is the tan building in the middle with a green space to the left

Doesn't Sam look thrilled ? Actually, he was. After almost a month and a half, Asia Tiger finally arrived with our treasures...sure helps to make a house a home!

Unpacking and settling in has taken time, but we've also made it a point to continue exploring a little bit each weekend. The picture above was taken in Franschhoek at a wine estate about an hour from Cape Town.

Spring has sprung! To celebrate the moment and our relief from the mildly blustery winter, Sam and I hiked to the top of Lion's Head Mountain which is pretty much in our own backyard.

Another field trip that we enjoyed was to the quaint town of Kalk Bay. After wandering around town and exploring the harbor, we enjoyed a delicious meal in a restaurant that was right on the water....Not exactly Snoopy's, but special none the less :)

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Even Princesses Fall Down...a prayer for all princesses everywhere!

I just love this picture of Riley Lynn. It was taken to capture her joy in getting a new tiara and princess shoes. From what Vanessa has shared, Riley has discovered a new love for high heeled shoes. As cute as she was modeling all her royal accessories, it was her face that captured my attention and led to this prayerful blog.

Father, as I sit writing this blog I realize that it isn't a blog at all, but rather prayerful thoughts to you for Riley, her mommy, me ...for all your princesses everywhere. It's my prayer that everyday of our lives we grow in our knowledge and belief that we truly are your princesses, not in a spoiled diva worldly sort of way, but humbly, as your daughters and joint heirs to a heavenly inheritance.

Father, I pray that each of us, as we mature in our own time and in our own way, acknowledges and confesses that by our own efforts, there is no perfect princess among us. I pray that we'll all always lavishly shower each other with grace knowing that even princesses fall down... Father, you know that some of our falls are accidents. Others are because of the choices we make. Regardless of the reason, they leave us with bruises, cuts, scars .... even broken hearts. No matter how badly we're hurt, Father, I pray we'll always have and accept the love and comfort we need ...especially your holy compassion and grace that makes us perfect in your sight.

As I look at this picture of Riley, this precious little bruised princess of yours, I can't help but pray that all the princesses in your kingdom, including Riley's grandmommy, aka Vanessa's mom, aka me, will live grateful lives, always striving to honor you, the King of Kings...that all who know us will glorify you because our lives are a reflection of you and your perfect love.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Learning the Language

After almost 2 months in South Africa, Sam and I are still trying to master the language...not Afrikaans or Xhosa, but rather English! Actually, when I think about it, it's not a whole lot different from the challenge that faced us when we moved from California to Texas. It's not really a problem of learning new vocabulary, but rather of learning a new way to use familiar words.

Way back then, we learned to substitute "y'all" for "you guys" and "soda" for "coke". Today, we're learning to say "pleasure" rather than "you're welcome" and that "To Let" means "For Rent". Most words and phrases can be understood in context if given enough time to process not only the spoken language .....

{Please excuse the interruption as MWEB disconnected my internet at this point yesterday because I'd used my allotted time, and sadly the rest of this blog is floating somewhere out in cyberspace! Bummer :( Oh well, it's not like I don't remember the gist of what I was writing so let me just pick up where I left off before I was so rudely interrupted :) }

.... Most words and phrases can be understood in context if given enough time to process not only the spoken language, but also the body language. Unfortunately, that's the problem. There's usually not adequate time or else I'm just plain slow, but I find myself having to ask someone to repeat several times before the light bulb comes on and the meaning clicks.

For example, try translating this recent phrase a new friend used in conversation with me-

"One hundred percent! I'll give you a tinkle just now. "

I don't know what you think this means, but for me, my initial thoughts just didn't make sense. Actually, it means, "Absolutely! I'll give you a call soon." Just for fun, now that you know a bit of South African, you might want to try that phrase out and see what kind of response you get :)

As much as I'd like to continue chatting, I confess that I'm on a new internet diet...trying to limit my consumption so that I can make it through the next month with out having to purchase yet another booster and so... "I must whiz off now now (2 nows)!" (translation: I must leave right now) Love y'all and thanks for checking in. Cheers!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What a Day!

Years from now, I'm sure that I'll remember Aug. 6 as a turning point in our African adventure. I'd been looking forward to yesterday for almost a month ...actually counting the days as it was the first opportunity I was going to have to meet with the International Women's Club. It's been my experience since moving to Bangkok, that groups like these are a good first step in making friends and becoming a part of the community. I was not disappointed. Before the meeting even began, I was introduced to 2 lovely American women who immediately befriended me and welcomed me into their world. Believe me, in my head, I was doing a dance of joy thanking God for the blessing of friendship. After the meeting, we enjoyed having lunch together...sharing in the fast forward sort of way expats do. Then, to make an already perfect day even better, Sam and I were invited to attend the first ever gathering of the American Society of South Africa that was being held at a local restaurant that evening. Of course we seized the opportunity! I can still hardly believe it, but as a result of lunch with my new friends, we already have plans for Thanksgiving dinner and an invitation to enjoy an evening early in December at the American Consulate. What a day...what a truly remarkable day!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Shots

...Just a few of my favorite pictures from the past month. If you'd like to see more and are not on Facebook, just click on the following link.

Table Mountain...the flat one :) and Lion's Head to the right. We live just below Lion's Head.

South African wildlife....not exactly the Big 5 (Lion, Rhino, Elephant, Leopard, and Cape Buffalo) , but a special treat for a couple of expat Texans like us for sure!

Breathtaking scenery...I took this while standing on the tip of the Cape Peninsula where the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans meet.

Sunset from our apartment...watching this has taken the place of the 6 o'clock news.

Moonrise over Table Mountain. I never look at the moon without feeling closer to family and friends knowing that we all share the same view no matter where in the world we find ourselves.

Last post cont.

My favorite "beep-beep"...looks like the queen of England is riding in the backseat!

From roti to rusks....from "tuk-tuks to beep-beeps"... Being that I'm still a newbie to this part of the world, I frequently find myself making comparisons of everyday life here to life in other parts of the world that I've recently experienced.

"Tuks-tuks to beep-beeps" is a comparison of public transportation. In fact, rather than trying to put this into words, I should post a short video to illustrate this colorful part of my life. That would be a great idea, except that there are some real security concerns here in Cape Town. Thankfully, as long as I remember to use common sense (like not standing out on the street with a camera making a video), I feel perfectly safe.... with one exception, and that exception is what I call the "beep-beeps."

In Thailand, the streets were filled with a common form of transportation called tuk-tuks. The name described the sound the engine made. Well, in Cape Town, the most common form of public transportation is a full sized van that incessantly honks it's horn, not as a warning, but rather as a way of soliciting customers. Both vehicles in both countries are true road hazards in that they don't follow customary rules of the road. In fact, the other day I saw a bumper sticker on the back of one of the vans that said, "I stop whenever and wherever I want." Though I'm feeling more and more comfortable driving from the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road, I have a feeling that dodging "beeps-beeps" will forever be a challenge and an ever present danger. How I miss Ton and Ravi, our drivers in Thailand and Malaysia!

Another thing that's different and that I also miss is unlimited internet access. This past month I spent my entire allotment before the month's end. Fortunately, I was able to purchase a booster to tide me over. I neeeeeeed....not just be connected! Anyway, this change along with others, can be challenging but not impossible. I'm just going to have to do things a bit differently like not posting pictures on Shutterfly, or at least not as many What's that saying? ... "When in Africa, do as the the Africans do!"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

From "Roti" to "Rusks"

Actually, to be more accurate, the title of this blog should be From "Rice" to "Roti" to "Rusks" because last July, I was still living in Thailand. What a year it's been! As far as the title goes, rice needs no explanation. Roti was the delicious Indian flat bread we enjoyed in Malaysia, especially at breakfast, and rusks are a dried cake similar to biscotti that we've learned that many South Africans dunk in their coffee or tea and enjoy as a snack.

After only 2 weeks, Sam and I are settling in nicely. In a way, each move has gotten a little easier as we both know more about what to expect. I've learned that loneliness is inevitable, but that it won't last forever, and I've also learned to laugh to myself at the frustration of needing help with even the simplest of things. For example, today I was in an elevator needing to go up. There were 2 buttons in which to choose from. One was a "G" and the other was a "B". Since I was in the parking garage, I assumed the "G" meant garage and I pushed the "B". Wrong! When the door opened and we were still in the garage, the 2 local men also riding in the elevator looked at me like I was an idiot for pressing the wrong button which I guess I was! Note to self- "B" means basement and "G" means ground. Next time I'll know. There is no greater teacher than experience!

One last thought for this posting is that I want to say thanks for reading my blog and joining me in experiencing yet another part of the world. As I mentioned earlier, loneliness is one of the pitfalls of moving about as much as I have in the last year. Sometimes I joke and claim that my computer and the Internet are my best friends! Of course the reality is that they're only the tools I use to connect to you, my friends and family. If you have a moment to leave a comment, I'd really appreciate it. It really lifts my spirits to know that someone has actually read my ramblings :) Thanks! or should I say "Dankie" (Thanks in Afrikaans)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jet Lag Thoughts....

It's 2:08 AM and I should be sleeping, but instead I find myself wide awake, starving, and thinking lonely thoughts from another time zone. Truthfully, I've been indulging myself in a pretty full blown pity party...thinking of all those I've recently left behind...remembering the tears I shed on the way home from the airport yesterday evening as I shared with Sam special moments from both Texas and California...and even more tears as we talked about the details of the move to Cape Town and the reality of leaving even more friends began to sink in.

Unfortunately for me, my brain has an incredibly annoying habit of "half empty" thinking.... I so wish I was a more natural optimist! At least I'm a pessimist who knows there's a better way. I'm thankful that even at this early morning hour with a let lagged mush brain, God has given me the discernment to recognize this dark hole for what it is and the desire to refuse the temptation to sink even deeper into melancholy.

The reality is that in one more day the movers will be six more days I'll be on a plane to Cape Town. The reality is that I'm truly blessed! Each move I've ever made from as far back as I can remember has always made my life richer and I'd be hard pressed to choose a person or experience to sacrifice. Even my recent "mugger moment" is precious to me in it's own way :) Life is a journey...whether you live in one place or many, the truth is we're all always movin' on. Fortunately, we're never traveling alone.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The pictures that I promised...

I really do need to make it my goal to create new photo albums on my shutterfly account as it's my joy to share our travels with family and friends who choose to join us vicariously. I promise I'll get to that in the near future. But for now, the following pictures are the ones I promised in my last blog....Simple Thoughts. I've found that traveling really does have a way of causing me to examine my own beliefs while questioning and learning about the traditions of others.
Dressed to visit an Islamic mosque.

This is a picture of the Putra Mosque located in the government center of Putra Jaya just outside of KL. I visited this with high hopes of being able to admire the artistic beauty and also to learn more about Islamic worship.Unfortunately, as a non-Muslims, I could only walk to the entrance and look in. I'm not exactly sure why I had to dress for that...

The following pictures were taken at Batu Cave. It's the most important pilgrimage site for Malaysia's Hindus. During the Thaipusam festival celebrated in late January or early February, over a million pilgrims visit the cave. Sam joined the celebration on his birthday this past February...I need to learn how to post his video

A very tall golden statue of Lord Murugan with 272 steps up to Batu Cave behind it.

My favorite picture taken at Batu Caves! As an act of thanksgiving, parents bring their children to this temple. The child's head is shaved and then a powdery paste is spread over the child's head. Our driver, Ravi, surprised us by asking a family if we could hold their daughter. The family was very happy to allow us the honor...not quite sure if we were good luck or if they were just more than happy to allow others to share in their joy.

Reminds me of a Madonna and child...I'm guessing this God must be for children or maybe families.

Another god...Ravi pointed out the monkey like face and tried to explain that it had something to do with how people were in the beginning...I'm thinking he was referrring to evolution.

These last pictures were taken on a tour of Chinese cemeteries sponsored by the American Association of Malaysia. We learned a bit of Chinese culture by touring 2 memorial parks during Ching Ming, or All Souls Day which is celebrated for 20 days in April. I learned that Chinese people believe in ancestral worship and life after death and so during the 20 days of this festival families visit their departed loved ones graves. On their visit they bring the favorite foods of the deceased for them to enjoy. Our tour guide told us that they communicate with the dead by asking yes no questions. For example, they ask the family member if they've finished eating and then throw 2 coins over their shoulder. If the coins land with the same sides up, the answer is no and so they allow more time. If the coins land with opposite sides showing the answer is yes and they can pack up the picnic.

They also bring "paper" versions of all the necessities their loved one might need in the next life...clothes, cars, perfume, money...these are offered and then burned

The dead are buried according to feng shui practices...a hill behind them and water in front of them
Chinese wear color coded clothing to a funeral. The color is symbolic of how they are related to the deceased. The green is a grandchild, blue is a child...

This grave is not a grave at all. It was build to cheat death...interesting story.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Simple Thoughts

Recently, I joined a group from the American Malaysian Club and toured both old and new Chinese cemeteries as part of Ching Ming or All Souls Day. It's always so interesting to learn about another culture and their beliefs and traditions. In this blog, rather than post pictures of the trip, I'd like to share some thoughts I've been pondering about the experience and about other recent experiences too. (I promise to post pictures soon!)

Our tour guide, a lovely Chinese lady, explained that Chinese people, including herself, believe in ancestral worship and life after death, but what really got my attention was when she shared that the rituals that must take place upon the death of a loved one and every year after that are so complicated that today many Chinese convert their family members to Christianity on their death beds in order to avoid having to carry out the expected traditions. Over and over throughout the tour, she repeated that it was just so much simpler to be a Christian and it's that thought that has prompted me to share.

I couldn't agree with her more. Christianity is simple. It's so simple that it can be summed up in one word. Love... One verse. John 3:16. God wants the whole world to know him and to spend eternity with him. Why is simple so hard to accept in life, not just death?

Another example of the simplicity of Christianity is how it compares to Hinduism. The Hindu temple we visited this past weekend at Batu Cave was full of representations of different gods and specialized priests that served these gods. Our driver explained how that different gods handled different problems...sickness, money, children. Some prayer requests even had to be taken to priests in India for answers. I'm sure I don't understand it all, but what I do understand is that I worship one God, and that my God is more than able to handle anything anyone brings to him in prayer. In fact, my God knows the prayers of anyone who calls him Father before they pray...he knows what can't even be put into words. This is the God I've put my faith in.

One more "simple" thought I'd like to share is that in Christ, one is free... something that I've learned that not all religions share. Living in an Islamic country for the past few months has taught me that for a majority of Malaysians, religious laws govern things like what they wear, what they eat and drink, and when and where they pray...all things that I'm, as a Christian, simply free to choose for myself. In fact, the laws of the country even govern how non Muslims live out their religious beliefs. Christians and members of other religions in Malaysia are able to meet together and worship, but they are prohibited from sharing their faith with Muslims.

In closing, I can't help but wonder if the simple truth of Christianity is what might make it hard for people.... something so easy (I'm mindful that it was anything but easy for God as he sacrificed his son)... so easy to ignore or put off. Maybe John 3:16 is just too good to be true or too simple for people who want their own works and effort to pave their way into whatever they believe comes after this life. Simple thoughts, I know, but I felt compelled to jot them down.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

...Easter's on its way!

A very special picture of Uncle Ed and Dad ...Three generations later, Riley Lynn hippity hopping down the bunny trail gathering treats for her basketOn a list of random facts you might not know about me would be that Easter's my favorite holiday.
As a child, my love of the holiday was because I looked forward to all things pretty and new like spring colored Easter dresses with hats, shoes, socks, and purses to match. I just loved the sweetness of fluffy lambs, downy ducks, and baby bunnies and can still remember dreaming of delicious See's chocolates and sugary Peeps. I'd be so excited about my beautifully wrapped basket filled with tiny treasures and eggs hiding here, there, and everywhere that I wouldn't be able to sleep on Easter eve! I still love all those things....

Now, I also love that Easter's a time when the world hears the truth that Christians celebrate everyday...the truth of promises kept and the blessing of hope Jesus has given us all. As I sit here writing this, I find myself wondering the differences I could make if I awakened on Easter morning and every morning, with the same eager anticipation I felt as a child, ready to search for and discover the day's blessings and opportunities God has already prepared for my basket of life before I was even born. Something for me to think about...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Taste of Malaysia

Recently, I had the joy of taking a Malaysian cooking class with my new friends, Meredith and Elizabeth. What a treat it was! We cooked from 10:00 - 2:00 and learned so much...not just about cooking, but also about the colorful multicultural history of Malaysia. I'm convinced that there's no better way to experience a country than to spend a day in the kitchen with local cooks willing to share not only their family recipes, but also themselves. Our menu was - Otak-Otak (marinated fish in banana leaves), Char Koay Teow (Malaysian fried noodles), Kari Ayam (chicken curry), and Roti Jala (lacy pancake).

First, each dish was demonstrated. Next, we had the treat of sampling it. After that, we went to our individual cooking stations and cooked the recipe ourselves. Finally, as this picture shows, we feasted on a full serving of our creations. Yummy!

A picture of my Otak-otak...first time for me to use banana leaves in preparing a meal. The origin of this dish was interesting. Our instructor shared that otak means brain and that the recipe was developed as a way to use old fish, including its head or brain. The ingredients for otak-otak are: "fresh" fish, egg, fish curry powder, coconut milk, tamarind paste, kafir lime leaf, kaduk leaves, salt. sugar, banana leaves and spice paste( lemongrass, red chilies, onions).

This dish was so much fun to make. The Roti Jala or "lacy pancakes" had the texture and taste of a chewy crepe. The ingredients for Roti Jala are: flour, salt, tumeric powder, egg, coconut milk, water, oil. After being cooked on one side only, the pancakes are folded and then rolled before being served with curry.

A picture of one of my favorite dishes, Char Koay Teow! This is a national "comfort" food. I'm guessing our equivalent might be homemade macaroni and cheese. The ingredients are:oil, garlic, chili paste, fish cake, prawns, flat rice noodles, egg, bean sprouts, chives, light soya sauce, thick soya sauce, water and salt.

The beautiful cooks who shared their talents and heritage

Figuratively speaking, there's more than one way to "taste" a country and just like in sampling any cuisine, there are going to be dishes that you love and others you'd prefer not to have again.
In closing this posting, I'd like to say that the cooking class at Lazat is an experience I truly look forward to having again and again. However, the attempted motorcycle mugging that took place yesterday, I'd prefer never to sample again! Fortunately, I am sitting in the safety of my apartment typing about it and counting my blessings rather than in a hospital room recovering from what "could" have happened. I'll be the first to admit that being jerked onto my hands and knees by a tug on my purse strap by a passing motorcycle mugger into a street full of rushing traffic really took the wind out of my sails, but I'm not going to let it stop me from continuing to explore this beautiful country that I've been blessed to spend a bit of time in. I'm a little scraped up and sore, but thanks to the experience, a whole lot wiser. Cheers!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Recent Road Trips

The following entries are a small sampling of our recent road trips. We're so fortunate and thankful to have a car and driver which makes it possible to leave the city for these short little jaunts.

March 21, 2009
2 hours to the north... Fraser Hill

Sam and I ventured out of KL once again. This time we headed 2 hours north and explored the wonderfully weird little highland town of Fraser Hill. We not only enjoyed hiking jungle trails, but also savored the cool mountain air while having coffee and shortbread on the veranda of a beautiful English cottage all the while listening to the sweet sounds of the town's over 250 recorded species of birds and the call to prayer from a local mosque! After several hours of trekking around the jungle and town, we finished the day by dining with the locals at a quaint Chinese restaurant just off the main square.
The center of town...By the way, to get to Fraser Hill, we traveled on the only road into town, The Gap, a one lane former mule train road that is open on odd hours for going up and even hours for coming down.

Ye Old Smokehouse- built in 1924 by the English Red cross as a gift to surviving dependents of soldiers who had lost their lives in WWI. Today, the Tudor style house is a hotel and restaurant. It was a photographer's dream...and it's my dream to be a photographer!

Having coffee at the Smokehouse with our new friends, Elizabeth and Auden. They recently moved to KL from Washington D.C.

Looking into one of the Smokehouse guest rooms..wish these windows could talk!

Wild beauty spotted along one of the jungle trails we hiked.

March 14, 2009
2 hours to the south...Melaka

Our first major road trip was to Melaka. Melaka was once a thriving port...had an important role in the spice trade which prompted the Portuguese, Dutch, and British to successively colonize it. Today the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The first protestant church in Malaysia. It was constructed by the Dutch using the bricks that had been used as ballast in the ships that sailed from Europe.

St Paul's Church...the first Christian church in Malaysia. It was built by the Portuguese in 1521.

Jalan Hang Jebat, formerly known as Jonkers Street...a colorful shopping street in Chinatown just across the square from Christ Church.

The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia. It was built in 1646.

Lunch! Chicken rice balls..a specialty of Melaka :)
My next goal will be to post complete albums of all of our snapshots on Shutterfly. With any luck and a little determination, I'll have that done before we take our next road trip. "Selemat jalan" for now!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How to season a wok and other tidbits from Chinatown

It's always nice to meet new friends, learn interesting tidbits of history, taste different foods, and acquire new talents...all of which I got to do today! I toured KL's Chinatown along with about 15 others as part of a field trip organized by the American Association of Malaysia.

Of course, meeting new friends is the best! I met ladies from Whales, France, Canada, various states within the United States, and even a lady from Katy, Texas. That makes 2 women from Katy in 2 weeks. Can you believe it?

The most interesting food that I was served was actually a special drink. It was iced nutmeg tea. The owner of a Chinese restaurant located in KL's historical Central Market explained that it takes over five hours to brew as it requires a double boiling process. It was quite flavorful..sort of had a peppery taste and is claimed to have positive medicinal qualities.

As far as history, I learned things like KL was originally a tin mining town, and that the founder of the city, Kapitan Yap Ah Loy, has a very small street in Chinatown named after him in addition to an altar of honor at See Ya, the oldest temple in KL. I also learned about the three largest ethnic groups, Malay, Chinese, and Indian, and how their cultures, religions, and viewpoints on life contribute to a diverse experience for all.

However, the most unique lesson of the day was learned in a Chinese shophouse that sold anything and everything for the kitchen. One of my new friends and I returned to this shop after our tour was completed in order to purchase woks. I would've gladly paid twice what we paid just for the experience! Not only did we leave the store with cast iron woks, but also with very through animated instructions on how to season them given to us simultaneously by both the Chinese shopkeeper and an elderly Indian "auntie" who was also shopping at the store.

The instructions are as follows:
1. Wash the wok with soap and water.
2. Get a fresh coconut from the market and have the grocer mash the coconut.
3. Rub the mashed coconut flesh all over the wok
4. Boil water in the wok and add Chinese tea...allow to simmer.
5. Drain the tea and fry a chicken egg.
6. Throw the cooked egg away.

After completing these steps, the wok should now be seasoned and ready to use. According to many sites that showed up on a Google search, I could simply use vegetable oil, but how fun would that be? Tomorrow, I'm planning to shop for mashed coconut and Chinese tea. With any luck, the wok will be successfully seasoned, and Sam will have fried rice for dinner!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Hiking Malaysia... a Sensory Smorgasbord of Green!

32 years ago we hiked the hills of Malibu Canyon ... Today, it's our joy being together hiking and exploring a whole new world .... How thankful we are for the friendship we share and for those of you who've lovingly encouraged us and have journeyed with us over the years!

So many shapes and shades of green...

This picture fails to capture the awe we felt as we hiked up this mountain bike trail to the canopy walk...but it's the best we could do with Sam's cell phone camera :) Next time, we'll take a movie!

I guess this is why it's called a rain forest!

I've been in Malaysia 2 weeks now, so I figured it was time to sit down and record some thoughts...share some pictures, especially for my readers who may not have Facebook, my favorite mode of communication these days.
First of all, let me assure everyone that all is well. It's amazing how quickly that I've made the transition. In fact, in less than a week after arriving, Sam and I had already entertained visiting co workers in our apartment twice. There's no way I could have done that my first week in Bangkok, but I guess the move to Malaysia is more like picking up where we left off.
Our field trips so far have included markets (both big and small), restaurants (mostly neighborhood), and parks. I saved the best for last in that list. If I were to choose one word to describe Malaysia so far, it would be "green". However, the color is just the beginning. Walking....hiking through the parks is much more like trying to sample everything possible at a sensory smorgasbord...the earthy smells, cool rain drizzling or pouring down, birds or maybe monkeys taunting, thunder rumbling, cascading's a feast for sure, and Sam and I are "pigging out" as often as possible!
Oops! "Pigging out" was probably not the best choice of words in an Islamic country. In order to purchase pig products (bacon, ham...), one must go to a separate section of the store. So much to learn!