04 Sep Babymoon: Malaysia (Take Two)
Malaysia Day One
After our first crazy adventure in Malaysia, I was so ready to tackle round two, this time with our much-more-traveled friends. We arrived in Penang in the early afternoon…just in time to find a camera had been stolen out of one of our friend’s bags somewhere between leaving Bali and arriving in Malaysia three airports later. So we initiated our Malaysian adventure with a visit to the police station to file a report. It was kinda creepy to see officers walking around the station with huge automatic weapons, but they were most helpful and we got the report written within the hour (they actually just let the guys write the report while they watched, and then they signed it, printed it, and sent us on our way).
We checked into our AirBNB and split up into two rooms: the Troyelchels and the Stongels (a.k.a. the Troyers and Whelchels shared a room, and the Stones and Pugels shared a room). Lodging was literally less than $10 per couple per night, which is crazy cheap considering it was in Georgetown, which is the place to stay if you ever venture to Penang. After dropping off our suitcases, we set off to find the famous Penang street food we had heard so much about!
We mentioned the “bird nest” drink when we blogged about our time in Singapore, but it was even more of a delicacy in Malaysia! In fact, we found a shop that exclusively sold bird nest drinks and “candies” (I would liken the “candies” to honeycomb, basically just a solid version of the bird nest drink), which you can see in the photo above. We also saw several large concrete “bird buildings” around Malaysia, which is where the birds build their saliva-laden nests. Periodically, the birds are smoked out, and their nests are harvested for use in this bird nest drink which tastes pretty dang terrible but is supposed to have healing properties (thanks to all the saliva, of course). Healing or not, it’s certainly an acquired taste!
We found a hawker center and ate to our hearts’ content. Our favorite was the Char Koay Teow, which is essentially a Malaysian Pad Thai.
After dinner, the girls set out to find henna in Little India. We got home over a month ago, and I still can’t get the orange color off my foot, but the lady was super talented and shared her experiences doing henna for weddings, so it made for a really fun experience!
Malaysia Day Two
We set off bright and early on day two (the first photo below is just outside our hostel) so we could try roti canai (pronounced ro-tee chen-eye) and (our new favorite) teh tarik before heading off to teach at the Chinese school! Roti is a flat bread, sometimes served with sweet things like bananas, but most often served with a generous amount of curry sauce and about a quarter of a chicken on top! It was incredible. But nothing could (or can) top teh tarik, which is a bright orange “pulled tea.” The “pulling” consists of adding straight sweetened condensed milk to the black tea base and then pouring the drink back and forth between two glasses, pouring further and further apart until the drink is foamy and delicious. I still dream about this stuff.
Stuffed to the brim with roti canai and teh tarik, we set off to SMJK Krian in Parit Buntar, which is where Ruth taught English for over a year as a Fulbright Scholar. Our plan for the day was to teach an hour-long course we called “English in Action.” The four couples split up into four stations, each of which had a fun activity that encouraged the students to use English!
The Pugels played Catch Phrase, the Stones taught square dancing, the Whelchels had students create a short film (in English of course), and Brian and I split our students into two groups and had them each write a story that included a horse (for Kentucky), Taylor Swift, three adjectives, and a clear beginning and end. Each student in each group had to write one sentence at a time as they passed the paper around, and then we scored each group based on word length, plot, humor, and enthusiasm in the activity. Their stories had us laughing the whole time!
At the end of each 10 minute block, the groups would rotate, and at the very end we collectively scored the best of the four teams, which were all named after the mascots of the three colleges the eight of us attended and the one high school where the guys’ friendship really started.
After lunch, we went to the house of one of the administrators of the school, and they treated us to “steam boat,” which is a meal generally reserved only for New Year’s Day and very, very special occasions. Lots of fresh seafood (eyeballs and all) went into the two pots, along with broth, veggies, and noodles. It was delicious, as were the mantis shrimp, which were HUGE! Poor Brian was so sick but healed up quite nicely when our hosts gave him some sort of magical pill (paracetamol) that is super common in Malaysia — basically their version of ibuprofen — but not approved by the FDA here. With a little TLC and some paracetamol, Brian was back to feeling better pretty quickly.
Later that evening, 7 of the 8 of us (Brian went downhill fast again once the paracetamol wore off) set out to Little India for dinner, followed by a highly-recommended fish spa! During dinner, we met the sweetest family who was out celebrating their little girl’s fifth birthday. She just sat down next to us, started eating off of Ruth’s plate, and gave us THE CUTEST smiles you’ve ever seen in your life.
The fish spa was so funny, mostly because Lyman is insanely ticklish and howled almost the whole time his feet were in the fish tank. It was definitely something I’m glad I experienced, but it bordered on being uncomfortable because, despite my own lack of howling, my feet are also very ticklish!
Malaysia Day Three
Brian fought a super high fever all night long, and I still couldn’t hear out of my left ear, so we did some research and set out bright and early for a health clinic. We didn’t have cell service while out of the country, so we loaded the GPS while we had Wifi and hoped it wouldn’t time out.
If you know Brian and I at all, you know we have a pretty dreadful sense of direction. We made it to the first clinic, only to find it was closed and wouldn’t open for another two hours. Despite the reviews online, the sign also said it was an obstetrics clinic, so we weren’t confident they could even treat Brian’s suspected pneumonia. By this point, our map had timed out, our plan was out the window, and we couldn’t call an Uber because we had no cell service, so we had the bright idea to just keep walking toward some tall buildings in the distance.
2 miles and 2 other closed clinics later, with Brian coughing and about to pass out the whole way, we arrived at Gleaneagles Medical Centre Penang. It hit me that our health insurance doesn’t work outside of the country (duh), and we still weren’t entirely sure we could see a doctor at a hospital without going to the Emergency Room (and how much would that even cost?). Once again, I found myself growing very anxious at the thought of foreign medicine, and I could feel my heart nearly beating out of my chest. If we didn’t already look insanely out of place with our very white, very sweaty faces (the humidity in Penang was no joke, and we had just walked two miles), we had dressed ourselves in the dark, and I showed up with neon shorts and super crazy shoes that didn’t match at all. We spoke no Chinese and no Malay, and we showed up to the front desk feeling as out of place as we looked.
But the lady at the front desk had such a calming presence (and she didn’t even laugh at how ridiculous we looked!) that I have never felt more welcome anywhere in my entire life. She smiled and explained — in perfect English — what we should do and where we should go. She checked us in and then walked us down the hallway to the “International Medical Center,” where another group of really sweet ladies took our information and started our medical record for the hospital. They did laugh at us a little bit as our sick selves — one with a bum ear and one hacking up a lung — listed each other as our emergency contacts.
We each got a ticket, and I headed upstairs to the exam room while Brian went for a chest x-ray. He made it upstairs super fast, and we waited together to meet with our respective specialists: a respiratory specialist for Brian and an ear specialist for me. We were relieved to see that our specialists had studied in America and would therefore be able to communicate with us a little better than the Indonesian doc. We split up again as our tickets were called, and I went in to see the ear specialist, my heart once again threatening to jump out of my chest because, again, I hate anyone touching my ears, doctors included.
If you’re squeamish, you might want to skip the next part, but it was such a learning experience for me that I can’t help but tell this story! I sat in the exam chair while I gave a brief history to the specialist. She then tells me, matter of factly, that she needs to take photos of my ear canal and inner ear, so we’d need to do a scope. She takes photos of my ear canals like you would expect, but then she pulls out this crazy metal device that had a little handle and then a 6-inch long metal tube with a camera on the end.
Still confused, I ask her what this “scope” will entail, and again, super matter-of-factly, she says she’s going to stick it up my nose so she can take photos of my Eustachian tubes. Her nurse then puts a clipboard in my face so I can sign for the procedure, but at this point I still have a million questions. I sign the form while I ask, “So, like, are you going to put me to sleep? Are we going into another room, like what are we going to do here?” And she sprays lidocaine up my nose (which does basically nothing in the nose, by the way) and says, “No, we do it right here. We do it awake.” I ask her if it’s going to hurt, and she’s like, “Well, it’s not going to feel good.”
At this point I’m tempted to jump up and run out the door, because I don’t want a scope up my nose and Brian’s not here, but by now she’s got the scope halfway up my nose. So I get a death grip on the chair and try not to scream, and she finishes it really fast and doesn’t laugh at me too much. Despite the craziness of that moment and me getting far too up-close-and-personal with this doc, it was fascinating to see the inside of my ears after so many surgeries. Doctors always tell me my ears look ridiculous inside, so it was fun to see for myself. I was also relieved to hear that my tubes would take 3-4 weeks to open again (which they did, I just got full hearing back last week), but there was no permanent damage. I told her I was getting on a plane for 17 hours the very next day, and she says, “Oh bless you!” And gives me all kinds of nose sprays to try to open the tubes and prevent my ears hurting the whole way home, which I thought was really sweet. I asked her for a copy of my medical record, and she looked really confused and just told me to take a photo of the images of my ear to take home. So I did. (We clearly weren’t in America, where I’d have to sign 18 pieces of paper for my own records, haha).
Meanwhile, Brian was about to go in to see the respiratory doc, so I decided to go too. After an $11 chest x-ray, he didn’t have pneumonia, so the doc said we could either wait two hours for blood work results or we could take the prescriptions and leave, and either way it would end in an antibiotic and rest. So we picked up our meds from the pharmacy, paid our $200 bill, and went downstairs to find our friend again at the front desk. This time she did laugh when we told her we had walked two miles to get here, and she walked us all the way to the back exit to set us on the right path back home.
By some miracle, we made it back to our AirBNB with only one road name and a general sense of direction to go off of, which was one of the most proud moments of our whole marriage. Like for real, we high-fived and hugged…and then crashed in bed because it hit me about halfway back to the hostel that the medication the doctor gave me was a super strong anti-histamine, haha.
A few hours later, we woke up just in time to say goodbye to the Pugels, who were the first to leave Asia.
Then we set out to meet two of Ruth’s former students at one of the most famous street food centers in all of Penang. Ruth’s students were SO sweet and treated us to the biggest spread of Malaysian food — including stingray, which was surprisingly good! Like probably the most tender meat I’ve ever had. We also found the “yam puffs” I had LOVED in Singapore at a dim sum stall, and Ruth’s students taught me the actual Chinese word, which is Woo Kok (pronounced oo-KAH). Holy cow, I could eat like 4 plates of those things!
We very much enjoyed our conversation — and Zach and Brian enjoyed their Domino’s Pizza, which we teased them relentlessly about — and then said goodbye as we headed off to play games and finish our last sleep in Penang!
Malaysia Day Four
We woke up to our very last day in Asia, and I was both sad to leave our friends and happy to get back to the United States. 15 days is no joke, and I was so ready to get back to all the hot water I wanted and endless amounts of toilet paper (it’s clearly the little things in life around our house).
But first we had to find roti and teh tarik one last time and visit one more temple, in fact the largest temple in all of Penang: Kek Lok Si. You guys, this temple was HUGE and had like four gifts shops. Also an important distinction: Unlike the Hindu temples we saw everywhere in Bali, Kek Lok Si was a Buddhist temple and contained hundreds of Buddha statues.
We couldn’t figure out why the massive Buddha at the top of the temple looked so darn feminine, but now we know it’s Guanyin, the goddess of mercy (and actually the tallest Guanyin in the world).
While we were watching a bunch of ants form these crazy pathways like something you’d see on Planet Earth, we were once again approached by a group of people asking to take pictures with us. We didn’t speak a word of each others’ languages, and in my naivety, I assumed their gesturing to take a photo meant they wanted me to take a photo of them in front of the temple. I reached for their phone, and the ladies just started laughing and shook their heads no before pulling us into their picture!
We took a few more photos…
…and then Brian and I set off for the airport again. But not before we got one last photo with the six of us!
And with that, Brian and I said goodbye to the Strelchels and to Patrick, our awesome driver the whole time we were in Penang, and we boarded our plane out of Malaysia! For some reason, our flight took a detour, and we had a surprise chaotic plane transfer in Hong Kong, but then we set off across the Pacific! We landed in San Francisco near midnight local time, but we were craving Mexican food so badly we walked to the Denny’s in the parking lot of our hotel and ordered some not-very-tasty nachos. I took the longest shower of my life and then we nearly fell into bed before waking up a few hours later to head back to the airport.
And with a few more airplanes that felt like the shortest things ever after two 17-hour transpacific flights, we made it back to Louisville, happy to see my parents and Ellie The Cat and toilet paper. Our Babymoon had come to a close, and we were both a little sad and a little happy. But mostly really, really tired…