Temples in Southeast Asia

Travelling in South East Asia has many advantages such as the gorgeous weather, friendly locals, the exotic cultures, unique flora and fauna, affordability, and the fabulous food. The one thing that is a constant reminder of how far away I am from my home culture is the history of the temples throughout the region. Here are a few of my favorite temples displaying the rich history of the past and the modern culture of Southeast Asia today.

CAMBODIA~  Angkor Wat is one of the most impressive sites I have witnessed in the world. The temples within the archaeological park were built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II and dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The biggest temple, Angkor Wat, is massive and breathtaking especially at sunrise.

Angkor Wat

A few miles to the north are the Temples of Angkor Thom and the Bayon built by Jayayarman VII. The highlight of this temple complex is the four faced Buddha statues that rise above the jungles that once covered them. A warm feeling of peace washed over me as I gazed up to the heads that face each direction on the compass point.

Faces of Bayon

One of the favored Angkor temples is Ta Prohm because it has been left almost as it was when it was rediscovered; merged with the jungle!

Temple VS Jungle at Ta Prohm

BALI~ Temples sit on every corner in Bali. Each and every one holds something special from the welcoming smiles at the doors to the serene statues inside.

One of the many temples in Ubud, Bali

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the temples in Bali is the traditional dances held nightly. Here was my favorite, the Kecak and Fire dance.

Kecak Fire Dance in Ubud, Bali

The trip down to see Tanah Lot surrounded by the sea was well worth the drive.

Tanah Lot Temple, Bali

THAILAND~ The mighty temples in Thailand assault your vision when compared to the natural brown and gray stone temples in Bali and Cambodia. Vivid blues, blood reds, lush greens and bold oranges mix with the blinding gold stupas and pagodas to create a visual feast.

Golden Buddhas

Guardian at Wat Arun

The Grand Palace is crammed with so many temple buildings that blend together in the smoldering heat of the day. Dazzling statues like the Emerald Buddha are housed here in the many gleaming temples.

Grand Palace, Thailand

Thailand-Grand Palace

Wat Arun is a stupa-like pagoda that is encrusted with broken pieces of porcelain and seashells. The views from the top offer a fabulous sight of the Grand Palace across the river. The monastery is known as the temple of Dawn and is one of the best known landmarks in Bangkok.

Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn

LAOS~ Like Thailand, the temples in Laos are glittery gold and an overabundance of colors. The most impressive temple in Vientiane is the Pha That Luang with its blinding gold stupa  rising up into the sky. The often photographed temple graces the bills in Laos and one can see why as the temple is one of the most impressive sites in SE Asia. The tranquil scene inside the temple grounds is a welcome contradiction to the hustle and bustle of the busy city.

Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos

Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos

A trip north to Luang Prabang sets a totally different mood. Monks donned in saffron-colored robes peacefully walk the streets and sit in quiet reflection at the temples. Visitors are welcomed and encouraged to poke around the temple grounds and enjoy the gorgeous sites.

Buddhist temple at Royal Palace

Even the caves in Luang Prabang are temples which hold worship treasures. A leisurely trip up the Mekong to the Pak Ou Cave reveals hundreds of Buddha statues inside. A stop at a local whiskey village finishes the day trip with a  smile. Here some of the statues sit in the dark cave overlooking the meandering river and rolling hills.

Pak OU Caves

VIETNAM~ The Temple of Literature is an ancient Confucian sanctuary in the heart of Hanoi. It is a peaceful respite from the noise and traffic of the city. Built in 1070, this temple complex has five beautiful courtyards to wander through. This ancient temple is featured on the 100,000 dong note.

A huge drum at the Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam

The city of Hanoi circles around Hoan Kiem Lake, the site of a famed Vietnamese legend of a magical sword used to defeat the Mongols. The Tortoise Pagoda sits in the heart of Hoan Kiem Lake honoring the turtle that took the sword back to the bottom of the lake after the battle.

The Tortoise Pagoda at Hoan Kiem Lake

At the Northeast section of the lake you stroll over the arched red Huc Bridge crossing to the Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple). Weeping Willow trees sweep the surface of the lake as flags flutter in the warm breezes coming off the lake.

Crossing Huc Bridge over Hoan Kiem Lake

Temple of the Jade Mountain~ Ngoc Son Temple

MALAYSIA~  Staying true to the advertising slogan, Malaysia-Truly Asia, the temples in this country are from many different Asian religions. Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian temples can all be found on the same city block.

The Christ Church in Malacca was built in 1714 by the Dutch to celebrate the take over of Malacca from the Portuguese Empire. The church was originally painted white, but in 1911 the distinctive reddish color has dominated the landscape of Malacca.

Christ Church, Malacca, Malaysia

140 foot Lord Murugan at the Batu Caves, Malaysia

The Batu Caves just north of Kuala Lumpur house one of the most important Hindu shrines outside of India. A statue of Lord Murugan glitters in the sun at 140 feet tall as he stands at the side of the 272 steps into the sacred caves. This temple is the final spot for the Thaipusam Festival (see earlier post).  The lower caves have two more temples filled with colorful Hindu statues and paintings.

Buddhist temples can be found all over Malaysia. Thean Hou Temple is nestled high on a hill above the busy city and Highways below. This six-tiered temple has exquisite roof lines adorned with peacocks and dragons. Hundreds of red lanterns float high above the courtyards.

Lanterns at Thean Hou Temple, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. Located in Penang, Malaysia it is rightly named the Temple of Supreme Bliss!  Pictured below is the seven storied Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas.  A hundred foot bronze statue of Kuan Yin See stands over the temple complex of Kek Lok Se.

Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas

Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan

The architecture of the mosques in Malaysia is breathtaking.  This beautiful aqua mosque is near Jalan Duta in Kuala Lumpur. It stands majestically on top of a hill where the minarets call out to prayer five times a day. Below is the beautiful pink mosque in Putrajaya that looks as though it is floating on the lake.

Masjid Putra

Next on my list of must see temples are the Swedogan Temple in  Burma/Myanmar and Borobudur in Java, Indonesia. What are your favorite SE Asian temples?  Let me know as I have one more year to feast my eyes on the temples in this part of the world!


Laos for the New Year

Our family arrived in Vientiane, Laos anticipating a quiet laid back city in South East Asia. Well we got the SE Asia part correct. Vientiane is a vibrant dusty city with lots of traffic. It is an easy city to navigate and explore on foot or in open-air tuk-tuks. There are plenty of fabulous Buddhist temples to explore in the old city. Our favorite was the Wat Si Saket, which houses over 6,400 Buddha statues. We puttered around the city with a helpful tuk-tuk driver who refused to pull over when we got a flat tire until the rubber came completely off the rim. He had to flag down another driver and take his spare tire. We finally reached the temple at Pha That and it left me speechless. The blinding gold stupa stretched up to the heavens in the crystal blue sky.

The next day we left the capital and flew up to Luang Prabang. Our initial vision of Laos unfolded before us as we entered the “city” along the meandering Mekong River. In our travels we have previously crossed the mighty Mekong in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, but here in Luang Prabang it appeared especially magical. The charming old town is built right up to the banks with cafés overhanging the slopes. The pace was effortlessly slow and easygoing. The only transportation needed was a bicycle and your feet.

The temples are too numerous to count and the amount of saffron clad monks is staggering. We awoke pre-dawn to watch the procession of monks receiving alms from the people in the town.  The mist rose over the road and hills as barefoot monks padded in lines with outstretched baskets to accept their daily offering of sticky rice. The market place slowly came to life with coffee brewed by the cup and the smell of fresh croissants filling the misty morning. Locals quietly move about their business among the tourists snapping photos and resting in cafés drinking cheap local beer and eating sandwiches on fresh baguettes.

While sitting in a quiet café on the edge of the market, Brian and I watched the local and touristy scene. A blind man was lead by a woman and we watched in amazement as some of the tourist deliberately crossed away from him. The man approached the food stalls along the side of the road and without ever asking, each vendor offered him small change or food. He would respond with a beautiful wai and back away. The generous attitude and genuine smiles made this town my new favorite place in SE Asia.


On New Year’s Eve there were not any boisterous fireworks to ring in 2012. However thousands of candle lit lanterns floated peacefully into the night sky creating a magical tone to match the Laotian style. Local families roasted whole pigs and danced in the streets to celebrate the New Year. Luang Prabang will be etched in my memory for a long time.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

“Hey, we are going to climb Mount Kinabalu!  Wanna come?” 

“Sure, why not!”

Little did I know this would change my attitude and my life!  My athletic marathon-running buddy invited me to come along with 4 other friends of varying degrees of fitness to climb the tallest mountain in South East Asia. I was 60 pounds overweight and extremely unfit. When I voiced second thoughts everyone stated, “You can do it! You have a year to get in shape!”

The climbers in our group were inexperienced, but it was my physical condition that worried me. I began to train and change my attitude. Self doubt and terror often plagued me for a year. I told myself over and over that I could actually do this climb and determination began to develop! Working with a personal trainer three days a week and walking or hiking many weekends got me into shape. My work place had a “Biggest Loser” contest and I came in fourth place by losing almost 30 pounds.

Mount Kinabalu is on the island of Borneo in Eastern Malaysia. It is 4,095 meters (13,435 ft) tall. It is a “technically” easy climb because special climbing equipment or gear is not needed. However that does not mean it is an easy climb because of the severe change in altitude at the summit. There are unsteady rocky trails, naked granite rock surfaces, shoddy ropes to climb up and drastic weather conditions at times.

Mount Kinabalu Shrouded in Mist

We hired a reputable guide, Marius, who planned our three days at the mountain. We flew to Kota Kinabalu with a group of six positive excited people determined to reach the peak and have fun.

Day One-  Friday

A small tour bus picked up our climbing group and we sped past local villages, water buffalo and outdoor markets while we talked excitedly about our upcoming challenge. The mountain, shrouded in clouds, loomed in front of us as reality set in. The weather was atrocious with torrential tropical rain that had been coming down for ten days. We ate dinner at a small cafe and tried to keep warm in the damp misty night air. Our bodies began to adjust to the higher altitude. We got into our bunks at the small hostel with anticipation of the climb early the next morning. The sleep was restless since the sounds of the rain forest and the teeming rain penetrated the thin walls mixing with our excitement and expectation.

Day Two-  Saturday

Rolling out of bed early, we tried not to let the morning weather dampen our spirits. I had pictured a hot humid climb through the gorgeous rain forest, but the hammering downpour had not let up over night. We donned our rain ponchos and strapped on our gear after a hearty breakfast and then checked in at the trail head. The adventure had begun at 1800 meters (5905 ft). Hiking through the rain on muddy steep steps quickly took a toll on our feet. We would have to climb eight kilometers up to Laban Rata at 3273 meters (10,738) this morning.

After the first kilometer, I took off the poncho and trudged on in just shorts and a t-shirt. I was soaked from sweating under the plastic poncho and the shower on my skin and clothes was a relief! We soon began to see hikers coming down off of the mountain. Many of them were disappointed because they had not reached the peak. The rainfall had made the trails too dangerous to climb and their guides had not allowed them to climb any further than Laban Rata. This was a huge shock because I had not anticipated the weather stopping us.

As the terrain changed from dense rain forest to sparser trees, so did our group. Four of our group members had gained a significant lead and my climbing buddy, Judy, and I were quite a ways behind. This was not a surprise and Marius stayed with the two of us as the others went ahead at their speedy pace. Our mantra became “Slow And Steady!” (SAS) Judy and I dubbed each other the “SASSY Girls” for our slow and steady pace! We met numerous groups of climbers and had fun chatting and joking along the way whenever we merged on the trail or at the rest huts along the way.

We continued to talk to everyone we met, laugh and have a good time for the six hours we scaled the mountain that day despite the difficult terrain, exhaustion and weather. There were many groups that came up the trails past us or hurried down the paths with wishes of good luck. Some of the guides would look at Judy and I, shake their heads and rapidly gesture to Marius. He told us that the other guides did not believe that we would ever make it up to the summit!  Marius told the other guides that “His Girls” would make it because they had great attitudes and determination!

The Sassy Girls went at a steady pace and enjoyed the flora and fauna we discovered on the mountain; pitcher plants, civet cats, enormous centipedes and huge Borneo Blue Worms. The last kilometer and a half was especially steep with rough, uneven steps and slippery wet rocks. Our path had become more of a stream bed than a hiking trail. The exhausted SASSY girls reached Laban Rata in about 6 hours and when our muddy soaked bodies passed through the door of the guest house, our group as well as many of the other climbers and guides cheered for us. We collapsed with a hot mug of tea and an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment! Many other climbing parties came in hours later after dark and we realized that we had made the trek in a reasonable amount of time.

"Waterfalls" where paths should be!

Looking out the window caused immense heartache and severe disappointment. Waterfalls were splashing rapidly down the sheer cliffs past the guest house. These waterfalls were actually the trails we were meant to climb at 2:00 am. The view was extremely limited due to the tropical downpour which refused to end. Only 70 percent of the climbers had made the summit that morning and our chances were not looking any better for our ascent the next morning. In our hostel room for the six of us, bedtime came early to the sounds of pitter-patter on the roof and the creaking sounds of anxious people in old metal bunks!

Day Three-  Sunday

A quick night of freaking out, dozing, freezing and self-psyching up passed all too fast as the noise of climbers waking had me on alert. At around 1:00 a.m., I crept down the stairs to hear news of the weather and the fate of our summit ascent. Early risers were having breakfast and buzzing with the miraculous news that the rain had stopped an hour before and we would be able to finish our climb! We dressed in our cold weather gear, strapped on head lamps and waited to be called to begin the most difficult and longest part of the climb in the pitch dark.

Marius had Judy and I begin before the others in our group with the goal of making the summit by sunrise. Climbers must brave steep uneven steps formed from tree roots, uneven rickety ladders and trails surrounded by shrubs. I could not see two feet in front of my face so I was thrilled when the ground seemed to open up. This illusion soon gave way to sheer, slippery, wet, steep naked granite rock. After about two hours we reached the last check point of Sayat-Sayat at 3810 meters (12,500 feet).

Ann and Judy~ SO CLOSE! Almost there!

We were climbing in complete darkness and I was grateful for the headlamp as both hands had to hold onto ropes to pull ourselves up and steady our bodies. The trail was treacherous and as steep as 75 degree angles. I was grateful that I could not see down at this point. The last kilometer to the summit was the hardest challenge to face. The lack of oxygen due to the altitude was taking its toll on my exhausted body. One step – one breath was repeated with pure determination. We watched the sun rise over Donkey Ear Peak and finally made a rendezvous with our climbing party!

Ann, Jay, Judy, Kathleen, Jim and Lori at the summit peak of Mount Kinabalu!!!

Judy and I had made the summit to join our four other friends!  Hugs and congratulations flew over the mountain top as we realized the achievement we had made! We posed for photos and savored the accomplishment. The sense of pride was overwhelming and tears flowed freely down my face. I was overcome with emotion when I realized what I had done! This elation was short lived as Marius reminded us that now we had to get off the mountain and soon. The weather was turning again.

With a few glances over my shoulder, I began the descent back into the mist. Shock and fear took over as we reached the edges of the rock faces we had climbed up in the utter darkness. The blackness hid the shoddy ropes, unsound ladders, sheer drop offs and the unimaginable height of the mighty mountain. Judy and I slowly and steadily made our way back to the rest house at Laban Rata at the same time as the returning tropical rains. Our friends were already there and after a short rest, we began the treacherous descent.

The descent! How did we get OVER that ridge in the dark?

The rains were so heavy at times that we could barely see in front of us. The trails were not visible through the two feet of water rushing over them and into our ankle high boots. We were climbing down a vertical river! We met climbers coming up the mountain and maintained an amazing attitude despite our exhaustion and discomfort. Only once did we fall into despair and question how we would make it down, but the Sassy Girls quickly rallied. We met others along the climb down who were not as fortunate as us to have made it up to the peak so our triumph kept us moving. We met our friends at the foot of the mountain in the same café we began three nights before. Cheers, tears and a sense of elation greeted us as we were finally able to say, “WE DID IT!”

It has been a year since I left the mountain and the sense of pride has not passed yet. Whenever I am feeling a bit down or unsure, I transport myself back to Mount Kinabalu and remember how I had persevered ~ slow and steady. I conquered the mountain and the weather, but more importantly, I conquered my own self doubt!

How I still feel... "I am on top of the world!"

What can you do today that you didn’t know you were capable of doing last year?

Pangkor Island, Malaysia

I just got back from a much needed rest in Pangkor Island, Malaysia.  This was my sixth trip to the Pangkor Island Beach Resort and I am still in love with it!  Pangkor Island is on the west coast of Malaysia and just a three hour drive from KL.  Of course everyone says that all of the beautiful pristine beaches with the gorgeous blue water are on the east coast.  We have been to Redang and many other east coast beaches in Terengganu and Pahang, but we keep returning to Pangkor.


Pangkor Island was my first glimpse of a Malaysian beach.  The drive there is easy and scenic.  Travel the superhighway for half of the trip and then enter the back roads for about an hour.  Buffalo, palm trees, plantations, local villages and rice paddies are common sights on the route up to the island.  After a twenty minute ferry ride, you board a bus and are at the resort in two minutes.  As you step into the gorgeous open wooden lobby, the senses are alive with the smell of the ocean, the white sandy beaches with lazy swaying palm trees and the gentle lapping of the waves.  The rooms are bright and cheery, the staff is sooooo friendly and the food is good. 



There are two pools with a pool bar and a kiddie pool.  The pools are right on the edge of the beach.  A small strip of grass separates the pool area from the white clean 1.2 kilometer secluded beach.  I love this because I can watch one of my children in the ocean and the other child in the pool at the same time!  There is plenty of shade from the gorgeous palm and tropical trees lining the beach.  At the ends of the beach, the rain forest just falls right in to the sea.  They clean the beach all the time, but there are plenty of shells to collect daily. Hornbill birds swoop in and out of the trees all day with their eerie cry and their alien looking faces! 


Our day begins with a walk either through the golf course, down to the small ponds, or along the beach.  We saw a huge 1.5 meter monitor lizard on the other side of the pond and he just slid silently into the jungle when he saw us.  Another monitor walked down the beach one day.  We head into the breakfast buffet and sit out on the wooden deck overlooking the beach.  The staff knows us now and they all welcome us with a hand over their heart and they are genuinely happy to see the diners every day.  After our leisurely breakfast we head down to a shady spot on the beach and unload our books, water, and supplies for the day. 


Some of our afternoon activities have been kayaking, bicycling down to the local village, snorkeling (not too great) golfing, tennis, banana boat or flying fish, and strolling along the beach.  On one of our trips, we went to town to see the sights.  It is a small island and there is not a lot to see for someone who lives in Malaysia.  Some of the sights may be more interesting for tourists though.  There is a small Buddhist temple with a small replica of the Great Wall of China. The fishing village is fun to look at and there is an old Dutch Fort.


The evening begins with another trip to the buffet line and a relaxing meal out on the beachfront deck.  Some nights we go to the other restaurant and order from their menu which is excellent.  When we are stuffed we head back down to the beach for our night time stroll with our flashlights.  We chase the crabs into their holes and enjoy the waves gently rolling up onto the shore.  A visit to the open lounge upstairs reveals a cheesy, but fun Pilipino band.  We sit and play cards there with the kids or head over to the pool and ping pong tables before crashing exhausted into bed.


Pangkor Island is the perfect place to take a few days off  to relax!  You won’t find a better place with the facilities, beautiful beach and great staff for the price!  If you want to dive or snorkel then take the time to go to the east coast or Sipadan.  However if you want a tranquil holiday to unwind, then Pangkor is the quickest, most convenient, and affordable place to go. 


080122084524.jpg   The large statue next to the 272 steps leading up to the Batu Caves.

Thaipusam, a Hindu festival to honor devotion to the Hindu deity, Lord Murugan, was celebrated in Malaysia on January 23 this year.  Devotees ask the deity for a favor, offer atonement or give thanks for a granted prayer.  The worshippers prepare for Thaipusam through fasting and prayer in the 40 days leading up to the festival.  On the day of the festival, devotees shave their heads and make a pilgrimage to the Batu Caves which is 15 km outside of Kuala Lumpur. The Batu Caves house a temple which is dedicated to Lord Murugan.  Devotees will climb the 272 steps to reach the temple and place their “kavadi” or burden at the feet of the deity’s statue.  



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Once pilgrims reach the site of the caves, they will show their devotion in different ways.  Many will bear a kavadi which could be a simple pot of milk carried on their heads.  The kavadis vary in size and weight.  Smaller versions consist of a small temple with a rod that is carried on the shoulders.  Many devotees pierce their tongues, cheeks or foreheads with small spears. The largest kavadis can be up to 2 meters (6 feet) high which are held on their heads and then attached to the body with 108 hooks piercing the skin!  Some devotees walk on fire, practice flagellation and pull a kavadi cart attached by hooks in his back. 


Needless to say this is not a festival for those with a weak stomach.  After living in Kuala Lumpur for three and a half years, I decided that it was time to go and witness this festival first hand.  My husband, children and I set off with our good friend and local guide, Lucas, and fourteen other teachers.  I was leery and expecting chaos, strange rituals, horrific masochistic feats and lots of blood. 


What I found was a spiritual air where families frolicked in the river, vendors sold their wares, and children shrieked with laughter. Most people were dressed in yellow sari-type robes with shaved heads.  As we walked through the grounds, barbers in tents shouted out to us to get our heads shaved, people smiled at us or giggled as we hurriedly snapped pictures so as not to offend.  However as the evening progressed, we realized that nobody was bothered by our presence or our picture snapping, they were proud of their sacrifice and burdens! 


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It was a happy and spiritual atmosphere as family members gathered around their loved ones to organize for the final pilgrimage up the steps in the blistering tropical heat of the evening.  Lucas led us through the crowds down to the river in the foothills of the caves where families participated in ritual bathing.  We saw men, women and children carrying milk pots and smaller kavadis toward the steps.  Then we sighted the huge kavadis and meandered down to where the devotees were getting ready.   



The men who were readying to carry the enormous kavadis were surrounded by family and friends.  We watched with open amazement as one devotee who was shaved, bathed and in a deep trance began to don his kavadi.  Singers and drummers in colorful costumes beat their drums and belted out trance inducing songs to keep the devotee focused.  His eyes were rolled back into his head at some points but otherwise staring straight ahead with a look of total determination and love.  It was a powerful ritual to witness.  Men chanted and blew the smoke of incense into his face as the 6-foot kavadi was placed on his head.  More chanting, incense, drumming and words of encouragement were made as the 108 hooks pierced through the flesh on his chest and back.   


The devotee wobbled on his stool under the strain of the heavy temple, but never once did the man cry out or flinch in pain!  Not an ounce of blood was spilled as the hooks were inserted and then the spears were poked lovingly through his cheeks and tongue.  The drummers took up a more fevered beat and the man rose and began a jovial dance.  He jumped up and down as the enormous statue on his head bobbed and wavered.  The hooks strained against his body, but a look of spiritual bliss was all that was visible on his face as he communicated with his god.  He began to slowly dodge his way through the crowd toward his final destination, the statue of Lord Murugan in the caves at the top of the 272 steps!  His coaches, family members, the band and tourists followed his elated progress through the crowds to cheers of delight.   

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We observed many more men carrying elaborate and enormous kavadis.  Couples who had babies carried their beloved bundle slung in a yellow cloth hung on a pole shouldered between the blessed parents.  Young children skipped alongside their parents carrying pots of milk or honey on top of their proud shaven heads.  One man sat in an enormous chair of spiked nails and alternately slammed himself into the chair and gave blessings to other devotees as they passed him. People had fruits hanging from their flesh by hooks and others carried burning oil in clay pots!  


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It was an amazing night that filled me with wonder, bewilderment, awe and memories that will last a lifetime.  If you are ever in KL in January/February, this is a festival and experience not to be missed!  Thaipusam is a Tamil tradition observed mostly in Southern India, but festivals can be observed in Singapore, Malaysia and Mauritius.  Have you ever witnessed Thaipusam?  Share your experiences with me. 


As I sit here writing this I hear the first crackles and booms of firecrackers and the beating of drums and cymbals.  It is the first day of Chinese New Year and a neighbor is having a lion dance!  I must go now and hear the rhythmic drums of another culture beat their way into memories in my mind.  It is another exciting holiday season in Malaysia! 


It is almost the New Year!  How many people make a New Year’s resolution, and then a few months later realize how impossible it is to keep the resolution?  I know that I do.  I am always eager to start the new year off right, so I promise to exercise more, eat less, spend more time with my family, spend more time alone, quit bad habits, get more organized, …  We all know the routine, but SERIOUSLY how many of us keep our promises? 

This year, I plan to do something a little different.  I plan to consume more wisely.  I am not talking about dieting (although I am always in needJ). I am talking about consumption of goods and products.  I just saw an incredible 20-minute video, “The Story of Stuff.”    http://www.storyofstuff.com/  thanks to my friend, Jabiz who is my guru of conscientious living!   This short video follows our system of extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of “stuff” that we use in our everyday lives.   

Go to the website and check it out.  You will learn a few things, laugh at a few things and maybe even get angry and decide to change a few things.  There are some easy ideas to get started on changing our ways of consuming and disposing of our stuff.   

Last week I was shopping and I thought of how great it was to see some new American products in the stores here in Kuala Lumpur!  Hooray for Cheez-Its, Cheerios and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!  I can finally buy some familiar products!  Wow, they were imported all the way from the USA!  How great is that?  Wait a minute…  I have survived for almost 4 years without these products.  What was the cost of getting those products half way around the world?  Is it worth it so that I can consume a box of Cheez-Its, that frankly, I don’t need?  After watching “The Story of Stuff”, I began to imagine how much fuel was used to ship, the low-cost labor, the boxes and containers, the waste and pollution … I have been quite happy with the crackers and snacks that I buy in the night market.  These do not have boxes, these were not flown or sailed half way around the world and they were being sold by a local man supporting his family that I know and see every week.  

American strawberries in the large grocery stores cost RM26. for a small container (US $7.00).  I am too cheap to pay that when I can buy the same size container of local strawberries for RM4. (US $1.10) So, what is the real cost of shipping those strawberries half way around the world. The price difference is $5.90, but the cost to the Earth and its resources, the cost to families who are forced to work for cheap wages, the pollution and waste of buying these products is immeasurable. After watching this video, I am a little smarter and a lot wiser.  I will pay more attention to the items that I purchase, consume and dispose of in the year 2008.  I never really gave a thought to the “real” cost of products until I saw, “The Story of Stuff.”  Watch it and you may modify your New Year’s resolution too! 

(But right now what should I do with my box of Cheez-Its? I already bought them last week?!  I can’t waste them right?  Tomorrow is the New Year!  J)

Holidays Away From “Home”

It is holiday time, one of my favorite times of the year.  My family is from the northeast of the USA so I am used to the seasonal changes.  In October, we would have made the trip up to my sister’s house in NY to pick apples and pumpkins, hike in the mountains and admire the fall foliage.  By now, the apple pies and homemade applesauce would be frozen and the corn from my grandparent’s farm put up!  The entire family including, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephew, siblings, and cousins would have headed up to the farm to spend Thanksgiving together.  We would have walked to the creeks, wandered through the plowed fields and quiet woods searching for deer and pheasants to admire, cut holly boughs to bring home, baked and cooked all the family’s favorite dishes, then eaten way too much food.  The air would have been crisp and clear, so sweaters and boots would have warmed us. Perhaps a fire might have been going in the fireplace. AAAHHHHH……


Reality check!  Thanksgiving weekend in Malaysia was 90 degrees F.  It was hot, hazy and humid. The air was not crisp, but laden with so much moisture that breathing was an unpleasant activity. We worked on Thanksgiving Day.  On Saturday, we went to the pool at the club and then hiked in the rainforest. But, on Sunday, we spent the day with thirty friends cooking, laughing and sharing a feast of all the traditional Thanksgiving Day meals.  Even though it was a far cry from a Pennsylvania farm Thanksgiving, it was a wonderful day spent with good company. Many of our friends commented that they look forward to this day all year. 


Now it is only a few days away from my ultimate favorite time of the year, Christmas!  I love everything about it. I have to watch every corny movie and cartoon, see carolers, bake cookies and decorate the house.  The first year we decided that we would be too depressed to spend Christmas away from our extended family so we ran away to Phuket, Thailand, hoping to ignore the Christmas holiday.  It was a horrible idea!  Just like in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” I realized that Christmas comes any way!  All we needed were a few new traditions and some great new people to share it.  Now my family stays in our house until after Christmas Day now.  If we travel, we leave after the 25th.  We try to keep to some of the traditions we had in the USA, and we have added many new ones that make our holiday season special.  Today, we will hike with the dogs and then take a dip at the pool, finish our baking and sit down to watch some of the old Christmas classics that we bought on DVD and enjoy the day with each other.


How do you spend the holidays when you are away from “home” and family? 

It is a beautiful time of the year regardless of where you are.  Make the most of it and enjoy the festive season!  Merry Christmas and have a wonderful New Year!