Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Perils of multi-tasking

Meet his morning's breakfast toast.



Stating the obvious, lest the charcoal blackness elude your attention. 


My high speed multi-tasking super power seems to be faltering of late. This unusual phenomenon has arisen, somewhat suspiciously, around the same time Hubby bought me an iPhone. Yes, the revolutionary gadget sent from heaven with its multitude of oh-so-amazing applications!

All hail the iPhone!! (burnt toast won't kill you)

After the burnt toast, and the school run, I brought Solomon for his very much overdue booster jab. FYI, Solomon is as (if not more) addicted to the phone apps as me. So here I discovered another iPhone virtue; I let Solomon play with my phone while the doctor stealthily stuck the needle in his butt. Guess what, he was so engrossed with his 'monkey pre-school' that he didn't make a sound! Good stuff eh?

Since we're on the topic of iPhones; My favouritest  game is 'Words with Friends', it's an application where you can play Scrabble online with friends or strangers. Yup, this was what I was playing when the toast was burning away! (Hey, it was frozen, so I thought it would need a wee bit more time in the toaster!)

Anyway, recently, I was appalled to discover that there are also apps which help you cheat in this game! You just key in your letters and they give you all the possible word combinations and even calculate the eventual points for you!

No wonder one of my random opponents came up with words like 'zouave' and 'pleuron'!! I mean seriously, who comes up with words like these off the tops of their heads? Unless you're an entomologist who also happens to be a military aficionado!! Nope... don't think so...

Anyway, I still beat that guy by 56 points in the end!! Nyahaha! Eat my shorts! :p

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Don't underestimate them kids...

Yesterday, over lunch, we were talking about the Singaporean cousins:

This cutie pie is Cousin Ben Ten, he's only a year old. Recently, his mummy found out that every time he listens to the song about the ducks that went out to play, he cries! In the song, the ducks, one by one "left the others with a 'quack, quack, quack'!" and never came back! So poor little Ben Ten must think it's a tragic song!! He must be wondering why mummy keeps subjecting him to such depressing material!! :)

He must be the emotional type, like Annie. When Annie was small and was watching "Finding Nemo", she cried her eyes out when Nemo's mum got gobbled up and refused to watch that movie for quite a while!

Here's another cousin, Bryan, he's 8 years old this year. Sis no.3 reminded us of an incident which happened a few years ago when Bryan was still quite small. We were laughing our heads off! It went like this:

Bryan: Daddy, when you die...

mum began to panic, wondering how to reply to difficult questions about life and death, when Bryan continued...

Bryan: is it your computer give to me?

Hahaha... At least mum was spared the hard questions!! :)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Over the school holidays...

The kids had a long 3 week school holiday. For the first week, Hubby and I went to Sipadan for our diving holiday. We left the children with Grandma and Grandpa, so for that grievous offense, we spent the next two weeks redeeming ourselves by bringing them out and showing them a good time! :) Besides, Sis no. 1 and 4 were back from Singapore with their little boys, so there were plenty of kid-friendly activities on the to-do list.

First up was cousin Amanda and Amelie's birthday party. They are both sisters and share the same Birthday! Big Sis Amanda says that Little Amelie was her birthday present when she was born! Awww...

Anyway, we also celebrated Father's Day that day, a week early, because Big Sis was heading back to Singapore earlier and would miss the actual day. All the kids had a great time making fondant decorations for the cake and playing with water balloons at the patio. The adults indulged in food, food more food and also gossip.

We made a trip to Semenggoh, a wildlife forest reserve, specially dedicated to the preservation of orang utans. It was a short drive from town, and when we got there, we had to walk a bit through the jungle to reach the place where they feed the orang utans. We got there just in time for feeding, and could see the monkeys coming for food. The viewing area was quite a distance away, so we could only see them far up in the trees.

After the feeding, we went to another part of the sanctuary where the more tamed orang utans hung out (literally). Here, we could see them up close and the smaller ones were so cute! The large adults however are very strong and can cause serious injury if provoked! I think this is why we were not allowed to bring along any food or drinks.

After that, we went to visit Grandma's grave which was nearby. It was a hot day, so we rewarded ourselves with some ice kacang (sweet ice desert) and rojak before heading home.

There was also a trip to the Friendship Park to feed the fishes in the pond. The kids brought along their scooters, wave boards and roller blades and had a grand time falling all over the place!

We managed to squeeze in a movie session as well. We went to MBO Cineplex at The Spring. There were so many kids ranging  from 1 year to 11 years, that we split up into 3 groups! One younger and 'girlier' group went to watch 'Nanny Mc Phee', while another older and 'boyier' group went for 'Karate Kid'. Another group of three mummies, a maid and three babies decided to go shopping instead. There were altogether 23 of us! 5 mummies, 3 maids and 15 kids!! (note that all Daddies 'ran far, far' away!!)  :)

We also had swimming sessions at our condo and also at the Sarawak Club. Cousin Ethan also celebrated his birthday at the condo poolside. He turned 6 and this was the first time he's celebrated his birthday in Kuching!

All too soon, it was time to go home for the Singaporeans, and time to go to school for the Malaysians! It's always fun when they come home for the holidays. I think I'll plan for us to visit them instead, maybe the end of the year, when the school holidays start once again... that would be nice...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

To all the heroes of our little ones...

Happy Father's Day Superdads! 
(sorry I'm two days late...)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sipadan Part 3 - Eating our way home


Sis nos.2 and 4 plus kids have returned to Singapore and the school holidays are officially over :(  I shall finally get down to writing my much-delayed Sipadan Part 3 post before I forget what happened!!

Wow, I think I will be so grateful for my blog when I'm old and demented! Actually, no need to wait for when I'm old and demented, even now, when I read entries which date back only a year, there are so many details which I have already forgotten!! 

Anyhoo... there's nothing much to this last post on the Sipadan trip; just food, food and more glorious food!!

*Yum~~* ... I think my memory is coming back...

On our way home, we stopped over at Tawau for a night. So naturally, we went seafood-hunting for dinner and were recommended Kam Ling Seafood Restaurant which was located at Sabindo Food Centre, by the sea.

We took a short stroll to the place which was not far from our hotel. Spying tanks of live seafood pushed Hubby's adrenalin levels up a notch! He has high standards when it comes to the freshness of seafood and this place definitely got his seal of approval. You can't get any fresher than 'live'!!

Hubby and I trying to look dignified in the middle of pigging out!

Man... the food was superb... magnificent... amazing! The mantis prawns and crab were just okay, but the fish was really fresh and the boiled prawns and lobster noodles were simply awesome! I'm wondering if there are any chemical compounds found in shellfish which can give you a high, because we were little 'floaty' after the binging!! Maybe that's what cholesterol clogging up your arteries feels like!! Hahaha.. 

On top of the excellent food, the prices were reasonable and the service was prompt and efficient. Yes, amazingly, Hubby (whose hobby is terrorizing waiters), was actually satisfied, no, happy with the service and the quality of the food!

Seafood Junkie is content...

There was also a fruit market down the road from where we ate. Fruit is the other thing Hubby loves! I unfortunately am not really a fruit person. I just don't get it; fish... and fruit...  

*shakes head* ... nope, doesn't do it for me.

Now chocolates... and cakes... pastries... and gelato... yes... *nodding* ... that's more like what my sweet dreams are made of!

Okay, let's get back on track. So that was the end to another wonderful day. The next morning we took an early flight to Kota Kinabalu. Our connecting flight back to Kuching was in the evening, so again, we found ourselves with plenty of time to kill.

This time, we got the taxi driver to bring us to Penampang, where there is a coffee shop called Wan Wan which is famous for its fish noodles. hehehe.. greedy little buggers aren't we? Well, what can I say? We have always considered food one of the great pleasures in life. So, food is therefore parallel to travel/holiday, another of life's pleasures.

Anyway, it was a corner shop lot with tables both inside and out and patrons were waiting for people to leave so they could be seated! It was packed and customers were sharing tables with strangers, so I figured the food must definitely rock!

The house specialty was noodles made with fish meat. It was pretty nice, though I found it a bit too rubbery (think fishcakes). I think it would've been much nicer if the noodles were made to be thinner and cut finer. However, the fish head soup that came with it was seriously good. I'm not a soup person, but this was good soup; the fish was fresh and the soup was tasty!

It was interesting to see the overwhelming number of customers and how they handled operations. There were so many workers, I think a staff of about 20-30, for just one coffee shop! The 'tauke' (boss) had to use a megaphone to call for bills from across the room! There were workers whose only job was to direct traffic, some to seat guests, others just to replenish utensils on tables!

Yes, I do think it is worth the queue!

So anyway, after that we went once again to Central Point to kill time and do some souvenir shopping. We managed to get some knick knacks and T-shirts and gifts for the kids to assuage the guilt which comes with abandoning them at home! :)

Before you knew it, it was time for lunch!! muahaha...

Delicious oily Indian food! This was just a stall at the shopping complex. The food was yummy, but I'm biased, as I love Indian food. I think it came from living with my cousins of Chinese and Indian descent when I was studying in KL. My uncle is an excellent cook! His curries would leave my stomach burning for most of the night! :)

Well, after that, we headed for the airport and left for Kuching. About time too, because I was starting to miss the kids. Hubby had been missing them for quite a while by then, because he had been travelling endlessly for the past two months! When we got home, it was a Saturday and he left again two days later for work in Bintulu!

So, that was the end of our 2010 honeymoon! Can't wait till next year's!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sipadan Part 2 - Eat, Sleep and Dive

When we reached Seaventures Dive Rig, we were greeted with cheerful 'hellos' and a cold glass of orange juice (Tang I think...). Then, the very first thing we were required to do was to sign the disclaimer! It basically cleared the dive operator of any responsibility if anything untoward happened to us!

Anyway, after putting away our things and having lunch we had our orientation dive. We were assigned a Chinese dive guide who was originally from Guangzhou, but was previously working in the Philippines. There was a bit of communication difficulty, as our mandarin isn't that great!

For the orientation dive, we were brought to the house reef, right below the rig. The water was calm and we managed to take some photos, but they did not turn out very well because we were not very familiar with the strobe (flash attached to an adjustable arm) and it's positioning. They used to have resident pygmy seahorses at their house reef, but unfortunately they've all gone!! It's so sad. They're really tiny (1-2cm) creatures and they must have died out, because I don't think they can swim very far to move house!!

Anyway, later that day, we took a boat to the nearby Mabul Island and saw some huge turtles. However, the current was abnormally strong, so it was rather tiring and not as enjoyable as it could have been. Hubby and I initially planned a night dive at the house reef, but scrapped that plan because we were worried about the current and also we had to leave the rig at 5:30 am for the boat ride to Sipadan Island the next day.

That day, a few guests left, and there was only Hubby, me and another French guy name Julien. Since there was only the three of us, we were served a sit-down, three course meal which was quite good, considering the fact that it was not a hotel :) Hubby said the food had improved vastly since his last trip there two years ago.

Julien entertained us with his stories from feeding sharks in Africa, to seeing a whale in the Galapagos Islands! There was also Ricardo, a Spaniard who was a dive guide on a 2-week work/ holiday there at Seaventures. He told us how, from working office hours and owning a pub in Spain, then couch-surfing and delivering sandwiches in the UK, he ended up working as a dive guide in Vietnam! 'Interesting' is all I can say of their adventurous lives which are so, so different from ours!! :)

So anyway, the next day, it was still dark when we got up and had a light brekkie of buttered toast. We were finally going to Sipadan! It was a 15 min ride to Sipadan Island and when we got there, we had to first register ourselves at the office. Then, we went to our first stop, the best diving site on Sipadan; Barracuda Point.

On this first trip, we were lucky enough to see all three of the famous 'big fishies' which swim in large schools, namely the Barracuda, Jacks and Bumphead Wrasse. Apparently, Barracudas love strong currents, and since it wasn't so strong that morning, we only saw a small school. But I'm not complaining! There was plenty of fish to see! The school of Jacks was so dense, it was like a solid 'wall' of fish!

Everything was so beautiful and colourful, like a scene from 'Finding Nemo'! It was like a whole other world, an underwater utopia! The peaceful quiet and serenity which comes with diving contributed to the dream-like beauty of the place.

 Speaking of peaceful quiet, I did hear a faint "boom" while diving and I remembered what Hubby told me. Apparently, there is another island around the area called Pom Pom Island. It is called that because fishermen illegally use explosives to stun the fish which float up and are then easily collected! It is quite a distance off, in fact, but sound travels very well in water! Interesting eh?

Anyway, after the first dive, we went back to Sipadan Island and had breakfast at the rest house. There were many divers from different countries spending their surface interval time (you have to spend a certain amount of time above water in between dives) chatting animatedly about their dive at this world-class location! The island also acts as an army base, as it is very near Malaysia-Philippines borders and also for more security since the tragic mishap, about 10 years ago, where the Abu Sayaff terrorists kidnapped a group of tourists!

Well, later that morning, we had another 2 dives, one to South Point and another trip again to Barracuda Point, as Julien was into 'big things' and wanted Barracuda Point to be the site of his last dive since he was leaving later that afternoon. Divers can be divided into 2 main groups; those who like the 'big stuff', like manta rays, sharks, turtles, barracudas... etc. and those who are into macro photography of the 'small stuff' like nudibranches, shrimps, crabs... etc. I suppose Hubby and I are a bit of both.

There was plenty of 'big stuff' to see at Sipadan. There were reef sharks and huge turtles aplenty! The dive master said that if you didn't see a shark or a turtle, you could get your money back!! :)

After three dives at Sipadan, we went back to the rig and had lunch. I was totally knackered that first day at Sipadan and felt a little nauseated. I couldn't wait to get back to the room and sleep!!

That evening, after a good nap, we were debating between a night dive, or the optional sunset dive to Mabul Island to see the two famous Mandarin fish that make daily appearances at 5:15 pm every evening! We decided to see the famous pair and luckily we did, because a group (another 3 new guests had arrived that day) had tried to do a night dive that night and had to abort due to strong currents.

In the end, we never did a night dive throughout our whole stay, but the sunset dive was very pleasant indeed, we went down in the evening and surfaced an hour later, when the day was in the process of getting dark. We could still see, but had to use our torches to help get a better view. The two Mandarin fish were tiny things (about 5 cm in length) and the poor creatures were surrounded by so many divers snapping away at them like the paparazzi! You would have thought the pair were Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt!! But I think they're so sweet though, the way they stay in pairs and come out ritually every evening! (The Mandarin fish that is, not Brangelina...)

(stole this pic off the internet... we couldn't get a single decent photo because the poor things were hiding among the sea urchins! - they're prettier than Brad and Angie dontcha think?)

 Anyway, that night we had another nice sit down dinner and got to know the 3 new house guests. Bernadette was from the UK and works with SAP systems and had been travelling for 2-3 months. Cheraq was a lawyer from Bombay who had something to say about everything and always somehow managed (through no fault of his own, so he claims) to delay everyone. Essi was a primary school teacher from Finland who had been travelling for 9 months! This is not her first long trip and Hubby got it right when he said that a lot of people dream to do what she has done, but few ever have the guts to really do it!

It was another early night, as the 5 of us would have to get up before sunrise for another trip to Sipadan the next day! Joy!

That day, the first stop was again, Barracuda Point! I didn't mind, since that was the best spot anyway! Then we did Coral Gardens, and then South Point again. This time, I wasn't feeling nauseated, because I took some pills before heading out! :) It was another beautiful day of marvellous diving!

After lunch, Hubby and I were still full of energy, so we decided to explore the house reef. Essi came along, and it was a relaxing dive. We took our time, hanging about and going slowly, scavenging the sea floor for macrolife to photograph. It was amazing that there was so much sea life to see, just under the rig itself. Since they throw food down to the sea from the rig, it makes the bottom rich with nutrients which encourages macrolife.

After the dive and an hour surface interval, Hubby and I went down again, because we didn't manage to find the resident Flamboyant Cuttlefish in the last dive. This time, we still couldn't find it, and the current became rather strong after a while, so we gave up. We did 5 dives that day, as much as we could, because the next day would be the last! :(

Standing, L-R: Ricardo, Bin our Chinese dive guide, Annie's boyfriend and Annie.  
Sitting, L-R: Essi, Hubby, me and Cheraq. (Ulysses and Bernadette sitting at the table behind)

That night was our last dinner. It was buffet-style this time and we got to know another Malaysian couple who had arrived that day. There was still space on the boat to Sipadan the next day, but Hubby and I decided to go to Kapalai Island instead to look for more macro stuff to photograph.

On the last day, we went to Kapalai Island, which is not really an island at all. It is an atoll, where land can only be seen during low tide. The resort there looks gorgeous, with bungalows standing on stilts right above the water! We must stay there the next time we plan a trip to Sipadan! :)

It was a good dive, with so many beautiful and colourful things to photograph! We spent a whole hour just covering a small 10m square area from where we got off the boat! Hubby was totally engrossed in the task of photographing mini creatures which were not too happy to have their space invaded!

(FYI: this pretty thing is as poisonous as the blue-ringed octopus, which is really poisonous!)

It was indeed a pleasant surprise when the dive guides pointed out a Flamboyant Cuttlefish to us! When we were in Manado last year, I saw one but did not manage to take a decent picture. Hubby totally did not see it... I think he was off goofing around with the others! Then we couldn't find it at the Seaventures house reef the day before, so we were really happy to find it then and Hubby took a gazillion photos of it! Though I think only one shot turned out pretty decent!

The second dive that day, we went to the nearby Mabul Island again, but this time it was a different dive site, called Froggy Lair, obviously there were many frogfishes to be seen there! The place had many artificial wooden structures, built to encourage reef life. A huge school of Jacks had made the place their home and it was like Jack traffic jam down there, with them swimming in schools and lines!

There wasn't as many macro things to see there, so Hubby and I agreed that we just have to return to Kapalai Island again one day. It was quite fun searching for frogfishes though. Their camouflages are so brilliant, sometimes it is right in front of your face before you realize it's a fish!! :)

When we got back to the rig, it was time for lunch and after that we would have to pack up and ship out! :( Bernadette, Cheraq and Essi were also leaving that day. Just in time too, because as we left, a huge group of 15 and another few arrived. With so many guests, they would not have the luxury of visiting Sipadan Island for more than a day. So I guess we were all very lucky to have gone for 2 days.

So, that was it, 13 dives over 4 days and 3 nights. Yes, it was a blast! I am already looking forward to next year's trip!! :)

Anyway, the boat sent us to Semporna, where a van waited to send us to Tawau. Thus began our journey home. 'Sipadan Part 3- eating our way home' will be detailed in my next post!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sipadan Part 1- getting there

I'm back from a marvellous holiday! Hubby and I went for a 6 days/5 nights holiday. The first and last days were spent travelling and the days in between were purely; eat, sleep and dive! Every single day was soaked in sunshine (only the last morning of diving was a little cloudy) and the beautiful, clear, turquoise sea and white sand beaches were cliched perfection!

Ahhhh... just remembering the tranquility of the seaside invokes an inner calm... (I'll need this memory to get me through the more stressful days to come!)

Oh well, anyway, we first took the plane to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Since we had some time to kill before the following flight to Tawau, we went to Central Point, the most common taxi stop downtown; it is a large shopping mall. There were a few things we needed to purchase, like rechargeable batteries for the camera strobe, and antibiotics for Hubby's sore throat (upper respiratory tract infections are a no-no for diving; nose blocked = ears blocked = no diving).

So, we got our stuff, had a yummy duck rice lunch and headed to the airport. When we reached Tawau, there was transportation ready for the almost 2hr drive to Semporna, the seaside town from which you need to take a boat to get to the much fabled Sipadan Island! (FYI: Barracuda Point, a dive site at Sipadan Island was voted the 3rd best dive site in the whole wide world!!) *beaming with pride*

Okay, so where were we... yes, we spent a night at Seafest Hotel, Semporna. In the evening, we explored the area and found a small fish market behind the hotel. The fishing boats unloaded directly there and the fish could not have been fresher! It was so fresh that there was no fishy smell at all! Every fish market I've been to in my life has a smell that makes kid no.3 gag!

Hubby was over the moon! (He's a seafood junkie!) He's the only person I know who can get hungry looking at live/dead fish!! Crazy... I like Kentucky Fried Chicken, but my stomach doesn't growl when I see live chickens running around!! He drools over fish at a fish market like I swoon at the sight of trays of beautiful hand crafted chocolates!!

So anyway, that night we had some seafood (of course) at the hotel balcony overlooking the sea. The food wasn't excellent, to say the least, but the glorious view and the wonderful beach bum, laid-back atmosphere was first class. Only the huge brown rat which ran across the floor was a little disconcerting...

There were three ladies, including one who looked pretty old, rowing up and down quite a few times while we were having our meal. I still wonder what they were doing... their equivalent of an evening walk perhaps? But it looked like quite a bit of an effort to me, not leisurely at all... Most probably rowing at that speed is as normal and easy for them as a stroll is for us? Hmm... I think the old lady is in better shape than me!

The Seafest Hotel is rated 3 stars and was quite comfortable. The rates are reasonable, starting from the standard room which we got, at RM95. Breakfast was another RM18 per person for a simple buffet spread. Initially, they assigned us a room at the smoking floor without asking us first! The room really stank and luckily there were other rooms available for us when we asked to change.

The next morning, we were taken by boat to Seaventures Dive Rig. It was around 45 minutes out from Semporna and is right in front of Mabul Island, another excellent diving spot. Seaventures would be our home for the next 4 days and 3 nights of 'eat, sleep, dive'!

The structure used to be an oil rig and I was wondering if there was any oil there, off Semporna! One of our fellow divers later pointed out that the rig was actually imported all the way from Singapore!

So, we were practically living on the sea! Marvellous eh? The water was so clear and you could see fishes frolicking about. The rig also overlooked Mabul Island with it's pristine beaches. All this and throw in the clear, blue sky... we were in paradise!

The only thing was, you have to remember that this place used to be an oil rig with oil rig quarters, and not a hotel. So, the rooms were a bit small and beat up, but we weren't too bothered, because we would not be spending much time in it, not with paradise just outside the door!

My 'favouritest' thing about that place was the platform lift. They have a platform which brings people and cargo up and down from the water to the rig floor. When we did house dives (diving under the rig), all we had to do was get suited up, get on the platform, and they would ease us down right into the sea! The platform would go a bit below the water level and we could just slide into the sea. No need to jump or back-roll off a boat! Getting back up onto the platform was just as easy! No need to haul yourself up a boat with heavy equipment after a tiring dive! What joy!

I chose Seaventures because after calling a few resorts, I found that they were the only ones who would guarantee me 2 days (6 dives) of diving at Sipadan Island. I had read a lot of complaints, on the internet, from divers who, after coming all the way from other countries, found that they could not dive at Sipadan at all because their dive operators failed to obtain permits for them!

Sipadan is a national park and visitors are limited to 120 people a day. You are required to apply for a permit if you want to go to the island. The whole point of the trip is to dive at Sipadan, so even though there were many other more luxurious resorts, I chose to stick with Seaventures, because of this permit issue. Most people would be happy to get just one day at Sipadan, but since Hubby and I did not go in a big group and the occupancy was low at the time of our stay, 2 days was not a problem. In fact, we could have gone for another day before we left, but we decided instead to visit Kapalai Island where we could take more underwater macro photographs. So, Seaventures it was.

Thus our diving spree of 13 dives over 4 days began. 'Eat, Sleep, Dive' will be detailed in the next post...

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