Our first few days…

It is 5 am and either I am starting an early riser routine, or I have yet to acclimate to the 13-hour time difference.  These past few days have been mostly about getting comfortable in our new surroundings and watching Marty become a left hand side of the road driver.  He is doing great, by the way, but I worry he is taking the “When in Rome” attitude a bit too far.  He runs red lights and has started driving like a local (which means SCARY).  I don’t say anything because I certainly don’t have any desire to try it yet and to be quite honest having a chauffeur is nice.

We spent Saturday visiting the dogs, relaxing at the condo, going back to the mall for a few necessities, and bowling.  We ate lunch at a Thai place in the food court and completely forgot that we were not in the U.S. where Thai food is generally made to order as far as the level of heat goes.  When I received my plate, I counted roughly 8 large red chili peppers.  All of our dishes were so incredibly spicy that we ate as much as we could, but opted to find more food later… as the total for our four dishes cost only $9 US dollars.  We then decided we needed to cool down with shaved ice, one of our favorites when we lived in Taiwan.  Imagine a bowl of shaved ice topped with fresh mango, fresh kiwi, and gelatinous coconut jubes.  Amazing does not even begin to describe it.

I just think this is wonderful… and a bit odd.

On our way back to the condo, Marty saw a family sports center of sorts off of the side of the road and insisted we try bowling.  The outside advertised bowling, badminton, and karaoke… how could we go wrong?  It was just like a bowling alley in the US, and after 2 games I scored my all time high… and my all time low.

We woke early Sunday morning to visit the dogs one last time and hit the road to the southern state of Johor, our new home, to find a place to live.  While at the quarantine facility, the family who helped us import our dogs were cutting coconuts off of a nearby tree.  They offered Marty a few, and seeing as he can’t say no to anything, we now have three large coconuts rolling around in the trunk. Every time he comes to a stop, it sounds like we have either hit or run over something. Fun!

It was a 3-½ hour drive along a straight shot highway filled with cars, busses, and insane motorcyclist.  I suppose for them, it is sort of like the autobahn in Germany because every 20 minutes or so, I was shocked into a stupor when a motorcycle would zoom past me going about 120 miles an hour.  I’m not sure if they have a death wish, or they are just speed freaks, but from what I have read, there are quite a large number of motorcycle accidents in Malaysia.  Go figure! We even saw a large group on Harleys, complete with leather jackets that had their group name and ‘Malaysia’ on the back.

We pulled off of the highway at some town to get gas and look for food.  My GPS said there were a lot of restaurants, but what we found were more like outdoor roadside stalls.  Being the adventurous sort, we parked and gave one a try.  The trays of food outside with no shortage of flies hovering above were a bit disconcerting, but you know, when in Rome.  Turns out, the food was amazing…rice, veg, and a dizzying array of different curries.  Everyone was eating with their hands, as is the custom, but the restaurant owner appeased us with forks.

The interesting thing about Malaysia, from what I can tell so far, is that it is so incredibly multicultural.  There are primarily Malay (Muslim), Chinese, and Indian, and they all seem to co-exist so seamlessly that they are distinctly different, but also one.  It really is quite amazing.

The school has put us up in a hotel with other new hires and it looks like we will be working with some really great people from all over the world.  On our first night here, Marty was invited to a Texas hold ’em game where he met a lot of new co-workers.  They were all apparently very nice and they were also more that happy to take his money… I wonder what that means?

Yesterday was supposed to be our big house-hunting day.  For a few months, I have been in contact with an agent who was supposed to show us a lot of properties… he showed us three.  While the houses were big and probably very nice at one time, they were all quite run down, had serious mold problems, and in need of lots of repairs. One of the agents even joked that they lovingly called one of the houses ‘Jurassic Park’… if that gives you any indication of the condition it was in. I do get that we live in the middle of a jungle and this is normal, but I suppose I was expecting more that three options! I made this clear at the end of our one-hour house hunting stint and he promised to show us more today.  As a backup, I have another agent the school works with showing us houses too.  We pick up the dogs Thursday and since no hotels take dogs here, we are sort of looking at homelessness if we don’t find a move-in ready place today.  No pressure!

By the way, did you know that there is some rule in Islam that does not allow dogs to be touched?

Khaleejtimes.com states…

“Raising or keeping a dog inside the house is not allowed in Islam under any circumstances, and even prevents the Angels of Mercy from entering the house, and deducts a large amount of a Muslim’s worship reward on every single day,” Dr Ali Mashael, Chief Mufti at the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities in Dubai, told Khaleej Times.

However, a dog may be kept and benefited from outside the house for permissible reasons, such as farming, hunting or herding as explained by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), he said.

Street dogs are either harmful or not, he stated. “If harmful, they should be banished or killed if needed, but not because they are dogs or just homeless,” he underlined. “If harmless, they should be kept away or in a safe shelter, but never neutered or locked up until death.”

This means, they are not allowed in rental cars, hotels, etc.  You see TONS of cats here, but very few Malay locals seem to have dogs. (The Chinese do, though) Very interesting, but quite difficult when traveling with dogs!

May the force be with us today as we find a place to live… who knows, we may just end up living in Jurassic Park!!!

One last note for any of my students reading this… Yesterday when I was buying a SIM card at the mall, the Chinese  lady helping me had a ring tone of the song Calma by Pedro Capó.  Apparently, she loves latin music and is now subscribing to my Spotify playlist.  Ja ja ja!!!

Random photos of Pilar’s new friends… they don’t say much.

Selamat datang ke Malaysia… Welcome to Malaysia!

I have to admit that a few days ago I was skeptical we would even make it to Malaysia.  It seems that when large life-changing events are about to happen, anything that can go wrong generally does. 

Let’s see… my mom had to have surgery the day I was set the fly out, our A/C stopped working, Marty called a plumber to look at a potential leak and after they left we had a giant hole in the wall, 48 hours before we were set to leave Marty committed to painting yet another mural, and last but not least our airline decided to go on strike cancelling hundreds of flights.  The problem with any delay in our flight was due to the fact that we were taking our two dogs with us.  In order to import dogs to Malaysia, one must have a fancy vet certificate that is endorsed by the USDA.  It is only valid for 7 days, must be overnighted to Austin, and is quite expensive. Any delay in our arrival date would have made the certificate invalid and our dogs would have been turned away… as in denied entry. I have read that this can sometimes mean putting the dogs down.  Well, that was just simply not going to happen to Frida and Francisco. So… Sunday night I was at the vet to get another exam, and my amazing vet wrote me up another certificate.  (If you need a vet, Katya at Hoegemeyer Vet Clinic is absolutely amazing!!!) Early Monday morning we put the beds in storage, frantically threw whatever was left in bags or the trash, got a rental car, drove to Austin to drop off the paper at the USDA, had lunch with a friend, picked the stamped certificate up two hours later, and finally made it to Houston about 6 pm.  Luckily, we spent the night with my sister and had a wonderful, relaxing time in downtown H-Town.

By the time we made it to the Houston airport Tuesday night I cannot say that I was mentally ready for the 27-hour adventure that awaited us.

I’d say we did amazing in the packing department…eight bags for 4 people isn’t too shabby.

Saying goodbye to the dogs at the airport TSA ramp was difficult.  I know dogs are resilient, but I just couldn’t imagine my puppies being locked in a crate for 27 hours.  When we decided to go on this trip several months ago, we knew that taking the dogs was a non-negotiable.  We decided that if they had to choose between 27 hours in a crate plus 7 days in quarantine or 2 years without us, they would choose the week in jail. Now that they are safely on the ground and doing ok in quarantine, I know it was the right decision.

Even though our airline was on strike (EVA Air), I have to say that it was the smoothest flight we have had in years.  I don’t know what it is about airlines from Asia, but they are just downright efficient and pleasant.  I was sort of a mess about the dogs, and during the layover and re-boarding they sent me pictures of them so I would know they were OK.  When we finally landed in Kuala Lumpur and were reunited with the dogs and our bags, our import agent (who turned out to be perhaps the most wonderful person on the planet…except for my vet, of course) met us at the baggage claim area.  She not only took care of every aspect of the import process, she helped us book a GRAB (like Uber), squared us away with a rental car, and had her sister assist Marty drive the rental car to the quarantine station since we have never driven on the left hand side of the road before.  As if that were not enough, she then guided us to our condo and helped us schlep all of our stuff to the 6thfloor.  She was amazing!

During the hour and a half it took to get all of that done, I got to ride with the GRAB driver. He was such a friendly guy and he got all of my American political jokes. Ja ja!

To wind down, we swam in the pool before passing out (where we got to see our first burkini), and afterwards miraculously slept for about 10 hours straight.  I’m not sure how, but it seems as if we are going to bypass jetlag!

We got up this morning and headed to the quarantine station to see the dogs. I have to say that the ride there was a bit touchy as the GPS took us a different route and trying to follow new directions is a bit of a challenge when everything you know about driving is backwards.  To top it off, international roaming data drains your phone battery fast!  Believe me, driving in Kuala Lumpur without access to google maps on your phone is something you just simply don’t want to do. Marty did amazing and now is a self-proclaimed pro!  We hung out with the dogs for about an hour and gave them lots of love.

Happy dogs… happy girls!
Doggy immigration detention center. Did I mention they got an air-conditioned room?

And then we did what everyone does when they are hungry and need air-con… we went to the mall! hate to admit it, but this is what we did a lot in Taiwan… it’s sort of what everyone does and it’s the best way to get to know what people are like where you live.  People just seem to hang out with family in the air-conditioning and eat lots of food.  We had an amazing spring onion pancake wrap, new and interesting beverages from Starbucks, some fried concoctions and amazing pastries from the food court, and of course bubble milk tea.  When we first started walking around the various food stalls we stopped dead in our tracks at a horrible, putrid smell… certainly not the kind of smell you want wafting around food stalls in a fancy mall.  It took me a few seconds, and then I instantly recognized that stomach-churning odor from long ago… STINKY TOFU!.. a Chinese delicacy that smells horrible and tastes delicious.  I’ve only tried it once and although it was quite good, I just can’t seem to forgive the smell long enough to actually eat it.

Just in case you are unsure if you can park here…
with espresso popping balls!
Pilar’s new man.

Everyone we met at the mall was incredibly friendly, and when Marty got tired of waiting for the girls to finish shopping, he headed out and made friends with various real estate agents selling modern townhome properties.  We stumbled upon a stationary store and the girls actually shed tears when they walked passed the writing utensil aisle.


I finished off the mall trip with a stroll around the grocery store (an entire basket of food for $25) and then we headed home.  Marty got us home without the GPS and he looked like he had been driving in Malaysia for years.

When we got back to our apartment, Carmela turned to me and said, “I already love Malaysia!”  It is amazing for me to see them fit in so naturally (and quickly) to a completely different environment.  We saw mostly Muslim families at the mall today, 90 percent of the women wearing burkas, and the girls walked around like it was the most normal thing in the world.  We do stick out a bit though and we got more than a few looks… not in a negative way at all… just curiosity.  I forget that seeing the twins walk around must be quite a sight.  Carmela even said she got ‘hit on’ at the bubble milk tea stand by a young guy working there.  I think ‘hit on’ means he asked her where she was from and why she was here.

Tomorrow is another day of visiting the dogs and possibly a trip into inner Kuala Lumpur.  I’m not sure if I’m up for THAT drive, but I’m pretty sure Marty is… Joy!






But Wait… There’s More!

This is the pancake my husband served me this morning as he informed me he is now into the “Tiny Food Movement.”

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better… Bam! Another earthquake. Luckily, or not, this one happened as everyone was getting up this morning. I was in the main living area when the doors started shaking like someone was trying to break them down. The iron chandeliers began to swing like a recently vacated trapeze, and the entire room seemed to sway back and forth. I ran outside into the courtyard yelling, “Earthquake! Earthquake!” I certainly did not want the boys to miss out a second time. At the time of impact, one boy was trapped in the shower and the other two were blaming each other for annoyingly shaking the bunk beds. When they finally emerged into the courtyard, they had wide eyes and big smiles on their faces. Well, at least the two who were not trapped in the shower were excited. I was thankful once again that it wasn’t too big and I am still flabbergasted at the power of earthquakes. Turns out, it registered at 6.8 and the epicenter was a mere 53 miles south of us. Not too shabby! On the way to class this morning, there were sections of collapsed brick walls lying intermittently in the middle of a few sidewalks.

On a safer note, yesterday the kids and their teachers celebrated their last week together with a friendly game of fútbol. I think the idea came from so much smack talking over the past few weeks and it was to be a teacher versus student showdown. The kids all wore their newly purchased soccer jerseys and prepared themselves for greatness. While a few of the teachers had commendable skills, they ended up having to recruit passersby because they were getting creamed. They all had a super time and it was a great finish to a wonderful experience.

Seriously, I can’t say enough about Antigueña Spanish Academy… one on one instruction for incredibly low prices, and knowledgeable teachers who form relationships with their students and share freely their stories and their culture. I am extremely proud of these kids. They definitely impressed their teachers. Not just with their enthusiasm to learn, but with their great attitudes and openness to whatever came their way. When we first arrived in Antigua, I told the kids, “The typical American stereotype for foreigners is that we are all loud, obnoxious, and arrogant… and it is now your job to prove that stereotype wrong.” I think they took that to heart and did an awesome job doing just that! Bien hecho jovenes!

We spent the rest of the day doing last minute shopping and enjoying our final walks around town. Now the time for creative packing begins! While we are all excited to return home to family and friends, we are each sad to leave this amazing country. You know it has been a good trip when you feel like you are leaving “home”.

Gracias Guatemala por todo y que vaya con Dios.

Hasta Luego Guatemala

As we finish our last week in Antigua, we have settled into somewhat of a routine. We meet at the Plaza Central after classes, find some place for lunch, and then tool around the city stumbling into stores, traipsing around earthquake ruins, drinking lots of caffeinated beverages, and just enjoying the chaotic but relaxing pace of life here. All in all, it has been a wonderful trip and I am sure we will all come away with a myriad of life lessons and insightful experiences. Our Spanish has certainly improved, and I feel confident that everyone is now officially an expert at haggling for cheaper prices.

Until next year…

Hasta luego!

Sra. de Garcia

Guess Who Got Married?… Again!

Today a few of us went on a field trip to San Antonio Aguas Calientes, a small town outside of Antigua. We were told that we would participate in a traditional Mayan wedding ceremony and see how Mayan customs were being preserved, despite the changing times. It turns out that Marty and I were to play the lucky bride and groom to be. We learned how to weave (so the woman can give intricate woven pieces to her new in-laws), donned traditional Mayan wedding clothes, were purified of all of our pre-marital transgressions, danced the traditional wedding dance, and ate a traditional dinner of pepian. I even got to fast-forward a year and have a baby, the first one of about 15. Then, of course, I learned how to carry a ceramic jug of water on my head while making sure my 15 children followed in tow. These of course were traditions of many years ago. Presently, the decendants of Mayan women only have about 4 children and get married at the age of about 20 instead of 15. Regardless, it was quite fascinating and loads of fun.

Waiting for the demo to begin.
Weaving… not as easy as it looks!


Getting ready for the big day!
The wedding party.
Detox via copal (mayan incense).
The Happy Couple!
Then we have a baby!

Back in town, we headed to an Irish Pub for lunch and the kids worked on their pool skills.

So many life skills, so little time.

And finally my favorite photo of the day… We have to have how many kids???