Tuesday, July 30, 2013

cousin Ann Ann

On Friday we received devastating news from Penang. Our cousin unexpectedly passed away after giving birth to her fourth child. We are all finding this very hard to accept, as it is so sudden and tragic. She was always so jolly and happy-go-lucky.

It all seems so unfair, especially to her young children. But I suppose we must also remember and be happy for the blessing of a healthy and adorable little baby boy. We trust that God has his plans, and everything happens for a reason. Right now though, it is still hard to believe that she is gone.

Aunt Josephine said this; Don't be sad for too long. Life goes on. Be happy for the baby.

Good bye Ann Ann Jie Jie. Rest in peace.

the last time we saw her at Cousin Athena's wedding

(Ironically, she passed away on St Ann's feast day. Every year, it is a big event in Penang and many people make the pilgrimage there to St. Ann's Church for a big procession. Also, St. Ann is the patron saint of fertility.)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

mind-blowing Maldives

I am back!

After a loooong month of cleaning house, I now have a maid! "Allelluia!!"

I do love a clean house, but this past month has got me agreeing to this quote I once read somewhere; "A clean house is a sign of a wasted life!" 

Lol! Hear! Hear!

But I must say a lot of good has come out of the 'maidless month'. The kids (without much choice) have become more independent and responsible. Solomon can bathe and dress himself, and the big sisters help out and pick up after themselves more (still need some nagging there). I spend more time with the kids, (especially since I closed my shop) and really try to enjoy it as much as I can before the inevitable transition into surly teens!! :(

So the new maid is just for housework, she does not need to help with the kids. They can take care of themselves now, with my occasional help.

On the first day, we explored Male, the capital city. It takes only 45 minutes to walk around the small island.

So anyway, the Maldives; the gorgeous islands famous for their postcard-perfect, white sand beaches. I had better do this post before I forget everything!

Hubby and I flew to Maldives for a 7 day live-aboard (a boat) scuba diving trip at the end of May/ beginning of June. We were really busy before the trip, so I did not have much time to think about it! Thus when the time came to leave, it was pretty surreal! It was amazing that we were headed for a vacation in paradise!

The MV Eagleray

The boat we chose was MV Eagle Ray, as it was recommended by a friend who had stayed on it previously. There are a couple of benefits which come with living on a boat. Firstly, it is much cheaper than a resort, and secondly, one can see more of the Maldives, (compared to just staying on one island resort) as the boat moves to different diving sites over the course of the week. Our trip took us from North Male atoll down to South Male, then across to South Ari atoll, and up to North Ari, then back to Male.

The boat was spacious and clean, and the staff friendly and helpful. Unfortunately, we experienced a series of technical problems while we were on board. Basically, the generator broke down more than once. Without a generator there was no water as well, so once, we even had to go on board a different boat to take our shower. Then the air-conditioner went as well. That problem was not fixed, and the cabins were really smelly and stuffy at night. It was rather unbearable. So we decided to cancel our last two nights' stay and move to a resort. Luckily the management was kind enough to give us a refund, that is; after much badgering from me via email.

Chaaya Ellaidhoo resort. Great service, and friendly staff. I find Maldivians are generally friendly. Most Asians who go to this particular resort are mainland Chinese, so they were very surprised when we spoke English.

Luckily as well, there was wifi on board, albeit only when we were not too far from an island with a communication tower. Thus I managed to book a resort at the last minute, using my phone and Agoda. I booked a sea chalet (It had to be a sea chalet! We were in the Maldives! An opportunity not to be missed!) which was nearby. At that time we were headed for North Ari atoll, so I found a 3 star resort there called Chaaya Ellaidhoo, which was favourably ranked by TripAdvisor and would not burn too big a hole in our pockets (or rather Hubby's pocket to be exact! Hehehe)! So this way, we got to experience both living on a boat and in a sea chalet. Also since we needed to use a sea plane (most popular mode of transport between islands) to get from the resort back to the airport on the last day, we had another new experience to tick off the bucket list. The aerial view of the Maldives was a breath taking bonus.

The sea plane. The first time I've seen bare-footed pilots in bermuda shorts.

The aerial view was stunning. But it was also sad to know that because of rising sea levels, this will all be gone in a matter of decades...

 Well anyway, it was an amazing holiday. The diving was awesome! There aren't many macro things to see, not many small creatures like nudibranch, etc... Diving in the Maldives is for the big stuff! No teeny tiny nonsense! All the big pelagic creatures are in abundance in the Maldives. We saw among others, Eagle rays, Manta rays, Mobula rays, huge tunas, groupers, reef sharks, and the most awesome of all, Whale sharks! FYI, Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world! (Whales and dolphins etc... are mammals, not fish)

Some of the big stuff. If there's anything aplenty in the Maldives, its moray eels! So many of them everywhere and so many different types as well!

The small stuff. We did get to see some nudibranch which we had never seen previously.

The diving was a little tough, with strong currents, so I would not recommend it for beginners. Hubby's back has not recovered 100% and he is not supposed to lift more than 2kg, so he had to work out a way to get his gear on in the water. After a couple of dives, he became a pro. He would jump in first, then the helper would throw his BCD in after him. He would then put it on as fast as he could before descending. We had to descend fast, otherwise the current would sweep us away from the group.

Day 5: Kudimaa wreck, South Ari

The timing of our trip was not too good. It was the beginning of the monsoon season and ours was the last trip before they took a two month break to repair the boat etc.. The visibility was maybe 15-25m. That is pretty good visibility by our standards, but our dive guide says that is considered bad in the Maldives, as in January and February visibility is usually around 40m! In fact, the two weeks before we arrived, there was unusually bad weather, and the boat could not leave Male atoll at all! The sea was too rough to make the crossing to Ari atoll, so that was real tough luck for that group of divers.

Luckily all we had was lower visibility and some occasional rain in a usually dry Maldives. Only on the second last day of our trip, while we were at the resort, was there a storm and rough seas. (our second sunset fishing trip had to be cancelled)

So basically, while we were on the boat, all we did was dive, eat and sleep! Literally.

Enjoying the sunset and later the stars on the top deck.

Oh, star gazing on the top most deck was ah-mazing!! With clear skies and no interfering light from cities, we could see the Milky Way and spotted so many shooting stars we lost count! Mercury, Venus and Jupiter was also in an unusually bright, triangular formation at dusk. I do so love the night sky. Astronomy was a passion in secondary school.

After a dive, on the dhoni.

Anyway, diving... there were about 16 divers on board and we were split into 2 groups when diving. The boat had a smaller boat called a dhoni where the noisy compressor used to put air into the tanks was housed. Our equipment was kept there and we dived from that dhoni.

Fishing on the boat at night with Tai.

Hubby and I were the only ones from Malaysia. The only other Asians were a couple from Hong Kong; Tai and Ellen. They were celebrating their 10th anniversary! Tai is an avid fisherman who brought his own hand lines and bait all the way from Hong Kong and was kind enough to let us share them! The others included a sweet Spanish couple, a group from Belgium and another from Denmark. They were all very friendly and Hubby especially hit it off with Raul, the guy from Belgium who had more than a thousand dives under his belt! This was his 4th trip to the Maldives! BTW, he was either still drunk or having a hangover on our first dive! Lol! Other than Raul, Hubby's best friend on the trip was the bartender! -_-

Hubby with 'he who supplies the beer'.

On the way to the BBQ island. So beautiful it looks almost fake in the pic.

Barbeque on a tiny island

 Well the highlights of the trip all had to do with big fishes! But of course...

First, on day 3, while we were doing our surface interval, i.e: break between dives, the boat was making its way to a new dive site. Suddenly, we heard people shouting! We had run into a large group of manta rays feeding on plankton! There were almost 20 of them, maybe 16-18, and they were just swimming back and forth gracefully, enjoying the plankton which was in abundance. There was also a huge group of yellow-striped fish hanging around, feeding on the same plankton as the mantas.

Majestic mantas everywhere!

Everyone was on deck, gawking at the spectacle, until the dive guide shouted at us to gear up for snorkelling! We all scrambled to get our fins, masks and snorkels and jumped onto the dhoni which brought us to the thick of the action!

It was amazing! The mantas totally ignored us, busy as they were with their feeding, and were I think even a bit curious, gliding right by us, just inches away! Everyone was busy taking photos and videos. Hubby had the camera and was swimming one-handed and with a bad back! There was just so many of them, coming at us from every direction!

When we were tired, the speedboat came to pick us up and bring us nearer to the main site of action again. At one point, there were so many of us, the speed boat began to sink, and we all had to jump off again! It didn't matter, everyone was exhilarated! It was indeed an awesome encounter! There were huge grins on all our faces after that! One of the dive guides was so excited, he jumped in with his camera sans battery!

 So the second big fish encounter was of course with the famous whale shark, the biggest fish in the world! On day 4, we went to whale shark territory, in search of the gentle giant. There were a few more dhonis, also cruising up and down that particular reef looking for the same. We spent almost an hour, looking around, to no avail. If we didn't find it that day, we would have had to leave for the next locale regardless. Thus, everyone was praying for a glimpse of the whale shark.

Whale shark; the gentle giant

Then, we had news from another dhoni that one had been spotted further down! When we got there, everyone rushed into the water, and in the end, only a couple of people in front managed to see it. We were feeling quite disappointed right about then.

On the second dive, we went down and after just 9 minutes, there was clanging from the dhoni up above. It was the signal for us to get up, as a whale shark had been spotted elsewhere! We surfaced and the dhoni brought us to it, at shallow waters. So it was time for snorkelling again! It was indeed a gorgeous, huge whale shark and we had to sprint swim to catch up with it! It  was swimming away from these noisy,  pesky creatures with flashy flashy things! Lol!

It was so tiring and I gave up soon. Hubby with his bad back and camera in one hand followed it right up until it headed out to the deep blue!

Then came the third dive. Hubby and I were with the second dive master. We were swimming along, looking at the reef, when we heard a frantic clanging. I looked around and saw the dive master pointing out towards the direction of the deep blue, at around 15m depth. The visibility was not superb, around 15m as well. As I peered at the direction he was pointing, not seeing anything, all of a sudden an enormous creature came straight at us!! Wow! My heart was racing! It was larger than the last one and was coming towards us! What a magnificent, gorgeous creature! It swam past us, then above us, then made a slow, lazy turn right above Hubby! Then slowly, it made his way back to the deep blue...

*Sigh* What a beauty!

Only Hubby and I, and another Danish couple, together with the dive master saw it this time. It was such a close encounter! We were ecstatic! The Danish girl was dancing a jig back on the dhoni! Lol!

So the last highlight of the trip was when we were on the resort. The resort was marvellous, and our room was right on the crystal clear waters! We could see the sea right from our bed and one morning I even saw a mobula ray swimming past our balcony!

a mobula ray swimming right past our balcony!

Well, anyway, the highlight was on the first evening, when we signed up for a sunset fishing trip. They had "big game fishing trips" and "sunset fishing trips". Hubby was longing for the big game one, but for reasons I forget, we just opted for the sunset one. We were told that most trips, guest caught small to medium fishes, mostly grouper and other bottom dwelling fishes. So we weren't expecting much.

Our boat driver. In the Maldives, they steer boats with their feet!

We set out before sunset. The fishing spot was only about 10-15 minutes away. We were all given hand lines and soon there was a gorgeous sunset to be seen. There was such good service on the boat, when we lost our bait, all we had to do was let the resort staff know and they would come over and bait the hook for us! Fishing without getting our hands dirty! What a luxury!

Soon, other people started catching fish while Hubby and I kept loosing bait. After a while, it was getting all too familiar. You see, Hubby and I have always liked fishing, and we have been on plenty of fishing trips which amounted to nothing, nada, zilch. Lol! Nope, not much talent for fishing, I must admit. Though Hubby has been on more successful, overnight, on-board fishing trips, but not me.

Well, you could feel lots of nibbles. The sea bed was about 30m deep and we knew there was plenty of fish down there. Plenty! We have seen it with our own eyes!

They told us to let the weight go right down to the bottom, and pull when we felt a bite. At times I couldn't tell if it was a bite or the current dragging my weight. So what I did was put my weight right down to the bottom, then pull it up a bit so that it was not dragging on the sea bed. Then I could feel the bites really well. So this way, I managed to get a smallish red snapper, then a small yellow fish which Hubby then began to cut up and use as bait. The resort gave us semi-dried jack fish as bait, which they said was 'really tasty' for the fish.

After a while I felt a really strong fish pulling on my line, but it got away. After replacing the bait, I got another bite! The fish was so strong, it scared me!! What if I pulled up a monster! What if I fell overboard! Lol!

I had to stand up and use all my strength to get it in and it turned out to be a huge, shiny tuna! Of course not as huge as the monster blue fin ones on tv, but definitely by far the biggest-ever fish I have caught in my whole life! The adrenaline was awesome!

Hubby in action!

Shortly after that, it was Hubby's turn to get some action! He was fighting with something that was obviously very big and strong! There was a lot of ruckus and the staff came to help when the fish was at the surface, but too heavy to lift into the boat. It was dark and we couldn't see very well. In the end someone shouted that it was a shark! Indeed, later when we looked at the photos which I blindly took in the dark, it was a small white tip reef shark!

White tip reef shark! Crazy!

Sharks are a protected species in the Maldives, so they of course cut  the line and let the beautiful creature go! *Phew* Talk about a great fishing trip! Hubby got his 'big game' after all! He was the hero for the night and after that, at the resort, we heard people telling others about 'the shark' and the rest on the boat came to congratulate him! He was the 'Shark Man'! Lol!

That was just a 2 hour fishing trip mind you, and only 15 minutes off shore. Isn't the Maldives amazing?!

We saw this boat delivering huge Black Marlins (these were already chopped in half!) to the resort! We couldn't believe our eyes! Hubby spoke to the captain and he said these were in abundance near his island not far away!

Well, I guess it is indeed as amazing and beautiful as they say it is. I wouldn't mind going back, not at all, but there are still so many other places to go and so many things to see...

Me and my tuna! Bon appetit!

Can't wait till the next vacation!!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

what's in a name?

Here's another conversation with Solomon:

Solomon: Mum, what is your name?

Mum: Priscilla.

Solomon: When I grow up is my name still Solomon?

Mum: Yes, our names don't change. Unless you don't like your name, then you can change it when you're bigger.

Solomon: I want to change my name.

Mum: Why? You don't like your name?

Solomon: Uh huh.

Mum: So what do you want to change it to?

Solomon: Lion!.... or Crocodile! No, Shark! Ya, Shark.

Mum: Okay.... -_-


So the other day, out of the blue, Solomon says, " Mummy, why we don't have baby?"

I say, "Yes we do. You're the baby lah!"

No response... (Apparently doesn't find it as funny as mummy does!)

So I ask, "Baby like Adam?"

"Uh huh," he nods.

"You want a baby like Adam is it?"

"Yup", he answers.


"Okay, ask Daddy to get you one!"

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