A housewarming and birthday all rolled into one

At Dad’s for dinner with Yuko and Yuji

I cannot believe that it has already been over three months since we came back from Malaysia.  So much has happened in that time.  Alex had his birthday, I resigned from my job and we moved into our new little place in Coburg North.

I should mention that we also had our dear friends Yuko San and Nashville San visit us, literally two days before we flew out to Malaysia, at the end of June.  Really, it was hardly enough time, but unfortunately, we had all booked our tickets way in advance, getting us cheap flights that neither of us was able to change.  We definitely made the best of those two days however, and crammed in as much as we could.  After picking them up from the airport, we

Got to have pizza in Carlton!

dropped them off at their hotel, and later it was dinner at Dad’s.  The next day we visited the Melbourne Museum, followed by a typical Italian lunch in Lygon Street.  Yuko and Yuji (who we fondly refer to as Shopping San and Nashville San; Yuko because she likes shopping and Yuji as he plays the guitar really well and loves country and western music) have become truly special friends, and if you recall came out to Australia only a year ago.  On this trip, they also visited the Gold Coast.  Unfortunately, our time with them on this trip was short and sweet, but Dad got to spend some time with them after we left for Malaysia.

Our humble abode

Upon our return from Malaysia, in mid-July, Alex and I started to get ourselves organised and move into our new place.  It did take us a little longer than expected…thank goodness for Dad!  Whilst I am not the home-renovating queen (let alone type!) nor a Ms Match-It…those white floor tiles had to go!  Alex and I have a rather ethnic and eclectic style, so we knew what we needed and wanted, including polished floor boards.  We knew that we needed the warmth of the colour of wood, to go with everything we had.  A little bit of research later, we decided on bamboo flooring, as it looks earthy, is more durable than wood, and is eco-friendly (consider killing a forest as opposed to using bamboo, which regrows quickly and is sustainable).  I must say, it made all the difference, and was all the “renovating” we required.  Over the next few weeks, we moved our stuff in, and on the 22 August we were officially in our new little town house.

James (my nephew) sleeps over

Slowly, slowly we have been adding things, and fixing things to our liking.  I believe that creating an environment that you love and feel comfortable in is an organic process.  It might be “finished” in a month, in a year, or never…it’s that organic process I was speaking about!  Slowly, slowly we have also been inviting different groups over for dinner, who in the past have had us over.  It’s a lovely feeling to be able to repay the favour, so to speak.  Having said that, we still have not got around to everyone…slowly, slowly.

Amongst all of this, I also resigned from my job only days before we moved into our place.  Essentially, it’s something that I needed to do, in order to be true to myself, my values and what I feel I am worth.  Everything happens for a reason and so now I am again on the hunt for a new job.

Carn’ the Pies…Fuzz and Gazza in the centre

Alex’s birthday was on August 10th and we had a small gathering with friends and family at Dad’s house.  It was also Fulvio, my brother’s, birthday on the 26th September, and as all good Aussies would know this is virtually like an Australia Day for us…the football (well Aussie footy anyway!) Grand Final.  So Fuzz, as Fulvio is also known, threw a combined birthday/footy bash at his place…lots of laughing and lots of screaming.  And I must say, that even I (who doesn’t follow footy at all) was getting into the spirit.

Ombi with Mali (L) and sister Teah

My birthday was on the 14th October, and we decided to have a dual celebration, combining my birthday with our housewarming.  Due to the multitude of friends that we have we decided on an open-house style affair, which was held on the 16th October.  The time was listed as “anywhere between midday and 8.00pm”, as we wanted the opportunity to be able to chat to everyone.  The weather was supposed to be shocking, with both rain and hail predicted (thanks Melbourne). Luckily, apart from a morning shower, the weather held out, so all of the kids were able to run around and play outside.  About 60 people came over the course of the day, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  The last guests didn’t leave until after midnight, and although it had been a long day, it had also been an enjoyable one.  My aim had been accomplished, and I was able to speak to everyone.  Thank you to all of you who came – you are all a special part of mine and Alex’s lives.

With Rozzie and Ida

I had another guest over for my birthday – my friend Rozzie from Cairns.  She was coming down for her grandmother’s 100th birthday.  Pretty fine effort, I might say! I went to pick her up the morning before my birthday.  It was great to see her again, as the last time had been in Melbourne, almost two years ago.  Rozzie only had a week and had to divide her time amongst a few people here, but we still managed some quality time together.  On her first night here, we got Ida over for dinner.  Many of you would recall that I worked with people with disabilities for many years and Ida was one of the residents.  We still stay in touch.  Some 10 years ago, however, on one of Rozzie’s trips to Melbourne, she met Ida and Ida has never forgotten her. In fact, whenever I speak to Ida, the three people she always asks me about are my Dad, Alex and Rozzie.  Why does she ask about them?  Quite simply because each of them have shown her, over the years, that they care.  At the end of the day, what one is remembered for is whether they were kind or not, not whether they owned a mansion in Toorak or not!  Ida, thanks for being a gentle reminder as to what is and is not important in life!

With our family at our housewarming

My friend Bec also came down to Melbourne in August for our friend Vickie’s birthday.  It’s always great to catch up with you too Bec.  Bec’s from Canberra but is now living in Brisbane.  Way back in 1999, I met Bec in Bolivia (a couple of months before I met Alex), and then the two of us met some months later on to cruise the length of the Amazon River, from Iquitos in Peru to Belen in Brazil.  There’s a whooooooooole other story that goes with this tale! Remember our Hawaii 5-0 moment Becs? We would eventually end up in Porto de Galhinas, where we met Rozzie.  Now that was a beach to die for!  And coming from an Aussie, that’s saying something!

Rita, Harry (her father in law) and moi!

My friend Rita, who lives in Dubai with her husband Graham, and two young boys, Sam and Darcy, have also been here a few times this year, and are actually here right now (late October).  Rita is effectively my sister, and I became the 4th adopted Garcia girl a very long time ago now.  When Reet’s around, I make the effort to see her as often as I can.

Wow, it has taken me a couple of days of “full-time writing” to get up to speed on my blog, but I think I have managed it.  I can’t beleive that we are breathing down the neck of Christmas now.  In true Ombi and Alex style, we have booked a trip to Thailand…where we will spend Christmas and the New Year.

Ombi

Dedication: For my “sister” Rita.  You have been there for me though the highs and the lows, and through thick and thin.  You have never judged me and always supported me.  Thank you for your constant love and support.  You are one in a billion and you know that I am always here for you, as you have been and continue to be for me.  Our friendship is eternal.


“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are” – John Wooden (I think this aptly sums real friends and friendships).

Yuko and Yuji give the tram a go!
Ombi with ‘special friend’ Judy Genge
With the love of my life at Sorrento Beach
On the beach…
At a festival in Hurstbridge with friend SAndra
Yuji chills at Dad’s place
Special friends forever
Happy Birthday Ben! (my spunky godson)
L to R: Lola, Sonya, Anne, Joan and Alex…dinner at our place
Dad and Aunty Lori
With Michelle and Steve at the housewarming
SAndra, Dad and Alex work on restoring the table for our new home
With Yuji and Yuko at Dad’s
With my cousins Carol and Glenn and Carol’s daughter Caitlin

Last but not least, Penang

Inside a Penang temple

Where was I?  Oh yes, we were flying to Penang at some ungodly hour, and were hoping to rock up at the Oriental Hotel in its capital Georgetown, and find a spare room or two.  We arrived in Penang, picked up our luggage and caught a taxi to the Oriental Hotel.  We got out of the cab, paid the taxi driver and looked at the hotel.  It definitely looked dodgy brothers, but hey, it was after 2.00am, and how bad could it be…all we needed was a few hours sleep and then we could move, right?   Geez, we missed the signs again, the warning bells should have been louder than tinnitus, but no, it was late, and clearly desperation had taken a grip, a firm grip!  We walked in and organised and paid for a room to stay in; I have to say, none of us were feeling warm and fuzzy about any of this!  Time was a tickin’…in the lift we go, and reach our floor.  The corridor felt like a fridge and our room like a freezer.  Add to that that it didn’t pass the Ombi “clean test” ( I admit to being anal about cleanliness)…we all looked at each other, and shook our heads! We all thought it,  I verbalised it, “No way!  Let’s get outta here!”  As we made our way back to the lift, we noticed a few women being followed by some dodgy brothers kind of guys.  I got the veeery distinct impression that they had not all gotten up simultaneously to go to the loo!  Couldn’t make a booking we had been told…it all seemed to be falling into place now.  Back downstairs in a heartbeat, we asked for a refund, telling the guy that it just wasn’t “our kinda room”.  He looked a little baffled (not quite sure WHAT he thought the three of us had planned to do/ done in that room!!) and said that once the room was checked that we could have our money back!  The three of us were equally as baffled as we did not know what we COULD have done in that room in what amounted to a nano-second.  We literally flew out of there!  Suddenly, we did not feel so bad that we had nowhere to sleep, despite the fact that it was almost 3.00am!

An interesting way to dry clothes – Penang

Where would we go?  We saw a place across the road called Banana Guesthouse.  Alex and Linda waited whilst I went and checked it out.  It was clean, safe, un-sleazy and the guy who opened the door was very helpful.  In no time at all, we were in bed, fast asleep.  Needless to say, we did not get up, or off, to an eight o’clock start.  I was the first one up, however, and went for a bit of an exploratory walk.  I also found another Banana Guest House (owned by the same people), a little closer to the action, so to speak, so later that morning we all moved across and settled in.  We would stay there for the remainder of our time in Penang.

Candle burning inside a Penang temple

Georgetown is Penang’s historical capital; it’s interesting, exciting and eclectic, all rolled into one. It’s where cultures meet and merge.  It’s where you can find Chinese food on one side of the street and Indian on the other (a bit like Melbourne, hey!)  It’s where, if you take the time to explore its nooks and crannies, you can find some veritable treasures.  And…..it has truly wonderful food…much to Alex’s delight! As per usual, some of the best food was the street food! 

We did lots in those few days (just ask Linda), and whilst the idea of relaxing always seems appealing to me, when I find myself thrown into a different atmosphere and culture, my desire to “suck in” as much information as I can is voracious, and I end up leaving the place, more tired than I arrived there.  This is exactly what happened in Penang.  We mixed historical sight-seeing with shopping with eating in a manner that even I thought was impressive.

Fort Cornwallis – Penang

Penang’s highlights are indeed many.  Penang (this is often used interchangeably with Georgetown) has one of the greatest concentrations of colonial architecture in Asia.  Fort Cornwallis, on the waterfront, provided us with a great starting point for exploration of the colonial area.  It was very hot the entire time that we were there, so we kept ourselves hydrated with lots of water.  We checked out China Town and Little India; in the latter Linda and I gave Alex some “breathing space” (read – saved him from torture!) and wandered around doing some shopping.  Yes, me, shopping!  I may not be the shopping centre kind of gal, but when it comes to shopping in other countries, where I can purchase unusual or different things, I am in!

As a bit of an aside…this is what I am NOT into: shopping overseas for cheap, fake, designer stuff!  The reason I don’t buy it or pay full-price here in Australia has nothing to do with the monetary value, and everything to do with the fact that I categorically refuse to pay some exorbitant fee because someone, somewhere has deemed that brand “in”. So, why would I buy it if it was cheap?  So that people back in Australia think that I have an original Gucci and think I am (A) “cool” or (B) well-off enough to afford it?  No, no, no!  OK, stepping down off my soap box now…

Food, food and more food!

Batu Ferringhi, or Foreigner’s Rock, is only 14 kilometres away from the centre of Georgetown, and is effectively the town’s resort area.  Indeed it could be Surfer’s Paradise, and based on this, I was not keen to stay there. Having said that, we did go to its famous night market, which actually had some beautiful wares from many parts of Asia, including Thailand and Vietnam.  I love markets – they are always a great place to people watch.  Like the rest of Penang, it also had great food.

Coming to Penang and not trying the multitude of different food available is like going to India and not visiting the Taj Mahal.  There are some things
that one just has to do!  One of the most famous
dishes is Asam Laksa, or Penang Laksa.  Whilst I normally love laksa, this variety was a bit too fishy for me.  One of my favourites was Char Koay Teow, which means “stir-fried rice cake strips”, and is one of Penang’s most popular hawker dishes. And the list goes on…Hokkien Mee, Ice Kacang, Cendol, Curry Mee, Mee Goreng…look some of these up, and tantalise your taste buds.

Traditional food – Penang


At the Rainforest Festival, Alex had shared a room with a Malaysian called Azahar.  What a great (and intelligent!) man.  Whilst he works in Sarawak, his family live in Georgetown, and he was going to be there for a few days, right when 

Fantastic Indian food – thanks Azahar!

we were.  We swapped numbers and he told us that he would give us a “local’s tour” of Georgetown for a day.  And that is exactly what he did!  He picked us all up one morning and took us places, and showed us things that a tourist would normally never have seen.  We also got to go to his mum’s place and meet his mum, and nephew.  He drove us around and showed us places, giving us an insight to how the locals live, and he got us to try food and drinks from local spots/ markets that we normally would not have thought to try.  I tried a drink that was made from some type of cane sugar, and was truly delicious.  We also went across the bridge to Butterworth, and came back (in the car) on the ferry, just for a different view.  At some point we stopped at an Indian roadside restaurant…Azahar ordered and we ate!  The food was super-cheap and so extremely tasty.  We had roti with a range of topping and sauces; probably one of the best meals we had in Malaysia! And before we knew it, we were back in Georgetown.  Azahar had given us a taste of the real Penang, in more ways than one!

Pinang Peranakan Mansion – Penang

Our trip was slowly coming to an end, and we only had one more day to go.  We’d all hit the wall!  In an attempt for our last cultural fix, we thought we’d visit the Pinang Peranakan Mansion; this mansion depicts a typical home of a rich Baba (descendants of 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants of more than a hundred years ago).  Whilst it was very interesting, we were all struggling to give it the time it deserved.  Linda and I sat down on some chairs inside, and it was then that I realised that I was at the end of my battery life -not even water and food seemed to be saving me.  With this, we all decided to walk home.  We managed it, but I must say (in my case) just!  It was only mid-afternoon; I had a shower to freshen up, and went to bed for a “short” nap.  As Alex often says to me , “When you shut-up, you shut down”.  That about sums it up!  I’d even used the reserve fuel in my tank, and my body needed to replenish.

The best food is nearly always street food

Upon waking up, we got Linda, and went for our last street-food experience.  We did not have to go far as there were a multitude of places and all very close to our hotel.  Linda and Alex then had their last local beer, again close by.  Wow, our trip had come to an end…well not quite, we still had to pack, and fly home, but that was only hours away.  We had all had such a good time, and Malaysia and Borneo had provided us all with lots of new experiences, cultural exchanges and friendships.  This is my passion, and this is my joy!

Does returning home merit writing about?  Back at the hotel, we slept for a few hours, woke up, caught a taxi to the airport and flew to Kuala Lumpur, before changing flights and flying onto Melbourne.  Again, it was an uneventful flight, in as far as all went well.  My Dad (who we fondly refer to as Mr Doo Bee, Doobie, or Doobs…long story) was there, as always, to pick us up.  How many airport runs have you done in your life Dad?  And as you know, I am as grateful as ever.


Another trip down, and a plethora more to go!  Where to next?

(NOTE: 2010 proved to be a very busy year; as I write this it’s mid January 2011, and in actual fact Alex and I have just come back from two weeks in Thailand).

Ombi

Dedication:  This one is for you Azahar.  Thanks for taking Alex, Linda and I out for a day, and showing us the ‘real’ Penang.  These memories will live with us forever.  You are an open-hearted and open-minded individual; such admirable traits which so few seem to have.  We hope that one day we can offer you the same hospitality in our country, Australia. Terima kasih!

“Let us be grateful to those people who make us happy…they are charming gardeners who make our souls blossom” – Proust (on a card that Alex bought me for my birthday recently)

Chinese quarter – Penang
We have the world in our hands!

Taken inside a Chinese temple???
Indian quarter – Penang
Indian food – Azahar’s pick

Colonial houses as seen all over Penang
Colourful Chinese lanterns – Penang

Now THIS is what I call food!
A Penang local