Wednesday, June 25, 2008

KL Adventures

The flight to KL was uneventful and even on time, a pleasant surprise given some of the stories you hear about Air Asia. Speaking of which, flights that is, Air Asia isn’t so bad. Yes, it’s a bit of a cattle call when the flight is boarding with no allocated seating but on a previous flight I had discovered the secret of flying with them. For some reason, people always try to sit up front, resulting in everyone packed in like sardines yet leaving the back rows empty. This endearing trait was repeated on this flight and we leisurely made our way onto the plane and proceeded to take up 3 seats on either side making it a comfortable flight.

We had already booked an apartment called “Seri Cempaka Suites” and I would recommend them to anyone but specifically for families. Booking over the net we got a 2 bedroom 2 bathroom large living area and kitchen apartment for 280MYR (roughly US$87.50) This was a real bargain and the fact that it was close to the city even better. From our living room window on the 20th floor we could look out on KL city in all its night time glory with the famous Petronas Towers in the distance. The main bedroom was even better with floor to ceiling glass along one entire wall and windows all along the other giving sweeping views. Brilliant stuff. Breakfast was good with a wide spread and enough for anyones tastes. In the same complex across from the apartment block is a few shops and restaurants, a Starbucks, a 711 supermarket, a food hall, and a brilliantly laid out enormous park that the kids had huge fun in. Speaking of restaurants, just down from the Starbucks is an Italian restaurant which served the best pizza and Italian dishes I’ve ever had (so good I asked for a second order of the meatball swimming in a tomato sauce and dripped with cheese dish). Quite simply delicious.

Taxis into the city centre did require a bit of a wait until you flagged one down. In fact, this was the case everywhere we went with the exception of the KLCC where they milled about. Another interesting thing about the cabs is just how old they all are, these boxy things on wheels that look as if they were relics from the 60’s. I reckon Bluebird in Indonesia would give these guys a serious run for their money with good cars (Toyota Vios) and fast and efficient service (not to mention that they are everywhere and you never have to wait for one).

One note about taxis though is just how annoying they were compared to Indonesia. Just about every taxi you stop the driver would lean over and ask where you were going, then set a price which was usually ludicrously over the top. For instance, we regularly were asked for 20-25 MYR to the city when the trip on the meter would cost about 6 MYR. At Petronas Towers we actually got into the cab then the driver started to bargain, we got out again. Next cab was a premium cab and I thought okay, this guy must be on the up and up but sadly wasn’t. Even though the sticker on the dashboard said if the meter was not used the trip was free, the guy asked for 25 MYR. I refused and told him to use the meter. He agreed a bit too quickly and I knew we were about to get the round about tour which he tried until C piped up from the back seat that this was not the way to our hotel. He did a quick turnabout and headed in the right direction. I wasn’t going to say anything and just pay him what I thought the value was but C knew I was seething a bit after the days experiences with cabs and sorted the fellow out first! Honestly, the cabs there are sharks. Compared to Indonesia where I have never been asked to negotiate a price (though C reckons she has a couple of times in Jakarta) and the taxis are plentiful and everywhere, Malaysian taxis are a shameless (and shameful) lot.

However, to be fair, on our second last cab ride the driver put the meter on without asking and when he overheard C saying we needed to organise a cab to the airport the following morning, offered his services and showed me a docket for a set price to the airport. He was on time the following morning, courteous and efficient with a clean cab, so, I shouldn’t generalise, sorry Pak Mustafa! (and he was a good bloke too – Lil D started to throw up just as we entered the airport, luckily caught by his quick thinking Mum, and Pak Mustafa didn’t raise an eyebrow but took the whole episode in his stride).

Which brings me to the next point of KL. The airport. Now a word of warning. The airport for Air Asia is 55 minutes from the city. Buses are plentiful and cheap, we got on a luxury coach that deposited us at KL Sentral but then we had to contend with the cab drivers while dragging bags and tired kids. Paid an exorbitant sum (25 MYR) to the apartment cos we were tired and he knew it... Not sure how to do it differently if your hotel doesn’t offer an airport pickup but believe me, its no fun being deposited at KL Sentral with suitcases and kids late at night and having to negotiate a cab fare...

The international airport does not service Air Asia, and while I dont know how far the Air Asia airport is from the international airport, the int airport is, get this, 50 kilometres from the city. Quite a drive, though the freeway there and back is huge, well laid out and very efficient. On the way you get to see the new government headquarters, cybercity, well laid out housing, schools etc, all the brain child of the previous prime minister, Mahathir. Quite the visionary I think, as he has made KL into a very clean well laid out and green city. I was impressed by it all. I reckon the only thing they need is a fast rail service from airport to city.

As far as city attractions go, we did the National Museum, then walked across the flyover to the KL lake gardens and walked till we got to the bird park. The kids loved the bird park, and had a great time. The following day we went to Petronas towers tho didn’t go up. Instead we wandered around then walked to the Aquaria, an indoor aquarium complete with underwater tunnel. Again, the kids loved it.

Our final day was spent at Berjaya Times Square where they have a big indoor funpark. The children adored it, spending over two hours on all the rides etc and emerged flushed and excited. A walk through the mall, late lunch at one of the bakeries, then back to the apartments and more fun at the nearby park. I’ll put some pics up later of the park

All in all, it was a good visit, and we all enjoyed it. The flight back to Indonesia, Bali to be precise, was almost on time and uneventful. The only gripe is that the seats were configured differently with noticeably smaller knee space. The poor guy in front of me tried to put his seat back but there was just not enough room. A big German fella seated nearby was noticeably hunched up and spent the flight in misery. Also, it was a lunch flight but all they had were instant noodles (open tub and pour in hot water). They told us no rice dishes or sandwiches. Hmmm. Still, we got our 3 seats for each pair as true to form people filled up the front again!

Arrived in Bali to be met by our villas handyman and driver Kadek who took us to Carrefour for some quick shopping then onto the villa. It’s as lovely as the last time we went, a glorious tropical delight hidden away in Seminyak and just a short 2 minute walk to the beach. This will be our home for the next 7 weeks and we have settled in quickly, the place is lovely with its own pool, guesthouse for our visitors later in July, two maids who do everything from cooking to laundry (and we might as well enjoy it as Dubai will be maidless!), a car and driver on call, what more could you want?!

So here we are, I’m sitting in the open living area, under the cool breeze of the overhead fan, listening to the noises of the night while typing this, C is watching TV and the children are asleep in their bedroom.

Life is good.


The End of Life in Surabaya

It’s been a very busy few weeks with the lead up to end of school, the subsequent farewells and then finally the packing and our departure.

We had a few good nights with friends and colleagues as we all gathered for the final goodbyes before end of term, and for us, a final goodbye to Surabaya. It was with mixed feelings that we took our leave from the community and friendships we had built up over the last 3 years. The expat community in Surabaya is a good one, and we had thoroughly enjoyed our time spent in Surabaya. However, once we knew we were going it seemed like the right thing to do. We had a great time and the children had grown up beautifully while there but after 5 years in Indonesia there comes a place and moment when you ask yourself "is this it?" and if the answer is less than satisfactory, then new places beckon.

But as all good things must do, it came to an end with the big final farewell at what was called quite aptly I thought, the last super. Tailors were brought in to sew up a variety of last supper clothes modelled closely on Da Vincis famous painting of the same name, and we all turned up at a friends place for a dinner. A good night was had by all!

Another night saw all the expat teachers at a local restaurant, speeches and gift giving, and food and wine in some quantities. That we had to be at school the following day could be excused as we only had report giving to do so it was a quiet day of cleaning out desks and tidying up staffrooms etc. One can do this sort of thing while in a fragile state and this foreknowledge allowed a rather late night.

The weekend before leaving I made a quick trip to Jakarta and caught up with friends. A few nights spent hashing over memories at a bar called, strangely enough, “Memories” in our favourite haunt, ye olde Jalan Jaksa. I like Jalan Jaksa though this trip around saw less of the local expats and backpackers and more Nigerian types dressed in flashy clothes and jewellery and always talking into their hand phones. Not sure what it’s all about but there are now, sadly enough, a few bars that are no go places due to their presence. Seems the locals and regulars alike have learnt through bitter experience to stay clear. A generalised view to be sure but one held by many. Also noticed more fellas lounging about, and an atmosphere not as friendly as it used to be. Still, I enjoyed catching up and wandering the streets of Jakarta taking in all its robust chaotic life.

The following week saw C and I going about the house sorting everything out, what was to be packed for shipping to Dubai, what was going to Bali and what we were going to take to KL (we were going there for 4 days). In the end, by the Wednesday morning when the packers arrived, I thought we had made excellent progress and everything was ready to be packed. This was an interesting exercise in itself. We utilised the services of Santé Fe as we knew the person in charge there and figured better to use someone we know.

Two fellas turned up and began around 9 in the morning. I was impressed by Sante Fe. The guys were efficient and the packing done to a high standard. Remains to be seen what happens when the shipment gets to Dubai but so far they have given us some confidence. By nightfall the house looked like a warehouse of boxes, and sundries were still scattered about. The truck arrived, they loaded it all on with some creative packing to ensure it fitted within our budget of a set number of cubic metres and finally C and I collapsed with a bottle of champers a friend kindly brought over. The maids had great fun as there was quite a bit of stuff we had decided to leave behind and they were busy wrapping things up to take home. Not sure how they were going to do it but I got a glimpse when a friend turned up on a motorcycle and one maid got on holding a large floor fan in one arm while balancing a big box on her lap which made her seating somewhat precarious to say the least. I had offered the use of the car and driver but was declined. I think they were a bit shy about using them so I let it go.

The next day was more packing, dropping things off to friends and generally sorting the house out. By Friday morning all was done and that afternoon we hopped onto a flight to KL thinking all in all, it had been a reasonable exercise. Though as usual, something had to go slightly wrong and while it was not earth shattering it did give us some nervous laughs. We had thought the flight was at 4pm, and as we were wandering around the house checking everything and pottering, C checks the tickets and it was a 3pm flight. Oops. A dash for the car, things thrown in and we were off for the airport. Made it with time to spare. No time to say a proper farewell to the house or area but what was lovely was that all the maids from the households around us that we had gotten to know all lined up at our house to shake our hand and say goodbye. It was touching that they made the effort.

So, we left Surabaya for that last time, and indeed our normal lives and bravely set off into the unknown once again. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating somewhat given that that we were only heading to Bali (which will be our home for 7 weeks) after a brief stop in KL! And Bali is not exactly unknown. Still, it was sad to go knowing that it would most probably be the last time we would see Surabaya and the people we knew. Then again, just about everyone will be in Bali for the triathlon at end of June so we will probably have to do the farewells and so on all over again. Anything for a good night!


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