Weekly Photo Challenge: Purple Skies at the Lake

Sunset at the Lake House

Each summer we are lucky enough to spend time at my sister-in-law’s lake house in New Jersey.  Sunsets here are incredible almost every night especially after a summer storm.  The cool breezes coming off the lake, the chirping of the insects and the peacefulness here keeps us coming back year after year.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Close… to the Edge!

Max Close the Edge of Bonticou Crag

Each summer we travel to visit my sister and her family in New York State. Our favortie place to hike is up to Bonticou Crag at Mohonk Preserve.  At 1200 feet, this outcrop offers breathtaking views of the surrounding Shawangunk Mountains. Turkey vultures soar overhead and wild blueberries abound at your feet. After a long scramble up huge granite rocks, you are rewarded with the beauty of the preserve and the mountains in the distance. It is not a climb for those afraid of heights, but it is just amazing! We will be making our annual hike in a few weeks. Yeah!

A Turkey Vulture Glides Close By

Brian, Devon and Max Close to the Edge

Anni Resting Close to the Edge

Brian is Close to a Vulture

You Can’t Rest Much Closer to the Sky

Weekly Photo Challenge: Today~ Ups and Downs of Kuala Lumpur

TODAY some friends and I strolled through my favorite shopping area in KL, Petaling Street. This is in the bustling China Town area of the city.  Everywhere you look, you are assaulted with an overabundance of color and stuff everywhere! Your eyes and mind constantly rivet up and down as you try to take it all in. It reminds me of why I love living in South East Asia. Here are a few snaps I took today.

UP- Incense Burning in a Chinese Temple

DOWN- Looking into the Chinese Temple

UP- A Shop House

DOWN- Shop House Selling Umbrellas

UP- The Tower at Sri Mahamariamman Temple

DOWN- A Vendor Outside the Temple

UP- Looking Up Petaling Street

DOWN- Looking Down Petaling Street

Learning to Breathe…. Underwater

“Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” James Stephens

I started to learn how to SCUBA dive as a teenager in the Middle East but it was not a happy ending. I will spare you the details of the real life horror story involving a death and a shark during our Open Water Dive test and just state that it has taken 35 years to complete that course. Three friends and I flew to the Perhentian Islands in Eastern Malaysia nestled in the South China Sea. The island is a feast for the eyes with palm fringed white coral sandy beaches and crystalline water. We would complete our open water dives while on the tropical island at Watercolours Resort and Dive Center with Sharon, our fabulous dive instructor.

View from Watercolours Dive Center in the Perhentians

On the first dive we suited up and sped in a motorboat to a small lagoon. As soon as I hit the water I began to look for sharks, but luckily there were none to be spotted. As my head went under the water and my brain began to scream, “STOP IT! Get out! You can’t breathe underwater. There could be sharks here!!  Are you insane!?!” My body started to respond to the commands with panic, but luckily I was able to prevail over my shark terror and ignore my claustrophobia so that I could begin the descent under the water.

Anni Getting Ready to Dive

Once I was under the water, my sensibility returned, my breathing steadied and the dazzling clear blue water and the world of wildlife below astounded me. After completing our skills on each dive, Sharon led us on our fun dives where we were able to see some remarkable sea life. Blue spotted rays floated by while the spikes of lionfish poked out of crevices in the coral. Tiny translucent feeder shrimp pecked at our fingers and a batfish frolicked with my yellow fins. Moray eels snapped their jaws, as hundreds of fish lazily drifted by like a rainbow.  It was a magical scene that we were able to experience four times that weekend. After passing our tests and completing our open water dives, the boat pulled up to the resort where a sign was waiting to congratulate us all on our success. It took 35 years, but I was finally able to conquer my fear of sharks. Another “Mind over Matter” accomplishment! Another bucket list item checked!

Gorgeous Perhentians! Our first dive spot.

Sharon, Angie, Ann and Alexis

Sharon, Angie, Ann and Alexis

It wasn’t until later that day, while snorkeling, that I finally spied a shark. The meter long black-tip reef shark glided in front of me, camouflaged with the white sandy bottom. To my surprise and delight the shark instilled wonder instead of alarm in me. Instead of turning and swimming away in fright, I grabbed my friend by the arm and swam as fast as I could after it, trying to get a better look. He was breathtaking, free and peaceful. Conquering my fear was as magnificent as he was! Anticipation of disappearing below the surface sits in the back of my mind as I return to mundane everyday life. I have spent a lifetime in appreciation and awe of the beach and ocean, but it has been heightened to an elevated level of understanding now that I can breathe under water!

Anni Looking Fearless

Have you overcome a fear?

Third Culture Kid~ Where Are You From?

When I was younger, there was a four-word phrase that sent panic to my mind… “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” Hmmmmmm… How to answer that loaded question? Most people can answer with a one-word response. My response is a paragraph:

Well, I am an American of European descent. I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, but I moved to San Francisco, California. I was raised in Massachusetts as a young child. I moved to Kuwait and then Bahrain with a short stint in Atlanta, Georgia that I would like to forget! I graduated from an international school in Bahrain. My legal address was in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, but I never really lived there. I went to university in Pennsylvania, but I left after two and a half years. I became a flight attendant where I was “based” in London, but I resided in Bahrain. Then I settled in Ocean City, New Jersey. (This was all before I was 25 years old) I got married and then raised my young children in Ocean City, New Jersey. When my children were 8 and 9 years old we moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I have been for 8 years. We return each summer to the USA and go to PA, NJ, and NY. Our legal address is now NJ, but we no longer own property in NJ. My family and my husband’s family are mostly living in that tri-state area. Hmmmmmm… You guess!?! Where am I from?

Now the questions begin to fly… Am I crazy? Do I have attachment issues? Am I an orphan? Do I exaggerate? Was I a military brat? Am I in the military?NO! I was a Third Culture Kid (TCK) who moved for my father’s work and now for my work. According to American sociologist David C. Pollock, “A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

TCKs usually answer the “Where are you from?” question with vagueness like, “Home is where the heart is.”  or “Everywhere, but nowhere.” Many of us cannot easily answer the question. I am living abroad again in Malaysia and for the first time in a long time, I feel truly HOME even though I am not Malaysian. For us Third Culture Kids and adults, “home” is not a place. It is a concept. Home to me is where I feel understood, accepted and comfortable with my life choices. Now that I am an adult and I can appreciate all the advantages of being a TCK, the question does not frighten me any more. I embrace it and look forward to hearing other traveler’s answers.

Are you a TCK? How do you answer the question, Where are you from?

My TCK World Map:

These are the flags of the countries that have influenced who I am.

Nayati: Short Video of Nayati Saying Thank You!

His father Shamelin Moodliar was quoted in the newspaper today:

“On his first day at school, he insisted on walking back home,” Nayati’s father, Shamelin Moodliar recounted at a news conference here today.

“He (Nayati) said to me, ‘I was kidnapped on my way to school, and now I’m walking home from school. Those kidnappers can’t beat me.”

Nayati is BACK! Student Abducted in KL is Home With His Family!

Nayati is in the arms of his family 6 days after being abducted on his way to school!!!!!! Here is a photo his father used on Twitter showing Nayati and his young sister being reunited. Thank you for all your positive thoughts and energy sent his family’s way!!! The outpouring of love from around the world is astounding! Here is the press release from his family this morning.

Press Release :

We are delighted to tell you that Nayati is back home with us and although it has obviously been a very traumatic time for him he appears at this stage to be in good shape. We cannot begin to say how proud we are of him and the way that he has coped with the events of the past week.

We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from all our friends here in Kuala Lumpurand all over the world. We are unable to find the words to express our gratitude but we will never forget what they did for us.

Even more surprising, because it was so unexpected, has been the support of people whom we have never met – and are never likely to meet – in countries as far away as Zambia and the USA, who have offered their time, skills and, in many cases, money, without any expectation of any form of compensation. We are so grateful for their help.

We also appreciate very much the tremendous practical and moral support we have received from the Netherlands Embassy and in particular the Ambassador, Mr Paul Bekkers. With his help we were able to surmount some “interesting” technical problems.

Finally we would like to express our gratitude to the Government of Malaysia, specifically the Royal Malaysian Police. Their number one priority from the start has been the safe return of Nayati and they have been most careful not to do anything that might have jeopardised his safety. We have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy our stay in this wonderful country.

As we are sure you will understand, Nayati’s kidnapping is the subject of an ongoing investigation so we are unfortunately not at liberty to reveal any of the details of the case at this stage.

There will be a press conference on Friday. Details to follow.
Thank you. – Moodliar Family

Break-Bone Fever? The Dreaded Dengue!

The peace of the gorgeous tropical day has been shattered. Sitting quietly by the pool, I suddenly feel the presence of a predator. I try to nonchalantly peer into the bushes to see what is making my hair stand on end. There he is, in his gray-striped pants, but he is unaware that he has been exposed. I shudder as he inches closer to me holding his weapon out in front of him as he looks for the best place to strike. It is now or never; kill or be killed. He doesn’t sense my awareness as he boldly makes his move. I am quicker! I am ready! I swiftly make my blow and blood splatters across my arm! His body lays crushed on the pool deck as I lie back down to try and enjoy my reading again. Another mosquito bites the dust! Since that fateful day in September, I am now always aware of the dreaded Dengue carrying mosquitoes.

Dengue Fever is a viral disease, spread by the Aedes mosquito, which infects 50-100 million people and kills about 25,000 yearly. It is a virus similar to Yellow Fever and West Nile Virus and has symptoms like Malaria. The mosquitoes which carry Dengue are active in the daytime and can be identified by their ugly little gray stripes which I can now spot from miles away! Symptoms include high fever, flu-like symptoms, vomiting, severe joint and muscle pain, and a ruthless headache between the eyes. It is a tropical illness that is more prevalent in cities where mosquitoes can breed in stagnant water.

As soon as we moved to Malaysia we heard the horror stories of Dengue Fever. Most people described it as a fever and illness so intense that your bones feel like they are on fire and are cracking into pieces. That description was enough to strike terror in my family, but apparently not enough to take full precautions. After avoiding the mosquito carrying virus for seven years, one bite was all it took.

I awoke one Friday morning in early September to go for my morning swim before school. I felt a splitting headache coming on so I took two Motrin and headed for the door. As I put on my flip flops I realized this was not an ordinary headache so I slipped back into bed after popping two Tylenol for good measure. Although I had a relentless headache and felt terrible, I made it through work by taking a ridiculous amount of pain medicine throughout the day. At 3:00 as the bell rang, I achingly plodded home and crawled into my bed as my head felt ready to be cracked apart and the mere act of opening my eyes was painful. By 6:00, I could barely lift my head or move and my clothes and sheets were soaked in gross yellow sweat. I had a 104 °F fever and my joints hurt so badly that the shaking from the fever sent excruciating pain shooting through my body. I knew I had the dreaded Dengue Fever.

The doctors confirmed my fears on Saturday morning with a blood test and suggested that I get admitted to the hospital right away. I was feeling a bit smug, thinking I could beat this, so I opted for my comfy bed, bad sit-coms, and People magazines. On Sunday and Monday I felt a lot better if you can call flulike symptoms “feeling better.” I went to my local doctor each day to have my blood drawn and to check my platelet count. The doctors were concerned because my platelet count was rapidly dropping and I was having a hard time staying hydrated despite drinking tons of water constantly. I knew the stories had been exaggerated, this wasn’t so bad….HA!  Nobody told me about the “honeymoon phase!”

When I awoke on Tuesday, I was convinced that I was going to die. The only problem was that I didn’t have enough energy to actually die and I could barely move. After the doctor insisted, my husband took me to the hospital where I proceeded to collapse in the waiting room. I got two bags of IV fluids in the ER since I was severely dehydrated, delirious and fainting. The pain in my head, joints, muscles, and bones was unbearable. The ER doctor admitted me to the hospital and I was hooked up to an IV bag for six days.

During this time I would be faked into believing that I was getting better only to have the fever and pain return again and again like that bad top-ten song on the radio. Finally I broke out in a rash that lasted for weeks and needed to be scratched to the point of bleeding. To top off all of the torture, a pleasant smiling nurse would prance in and jab a needle into my arm to draw blood for the platelet count three times a day. Every day it dropped a little bit more. Luckily I was too ill to care! I slept my way through the week with painkillers, sleeping pills and an IV bag as my constant companions. Finally the doctor released me on Sunday since my platelet count was stable, but I was still sick in bed for a few more days and the rash was worse than ever!

For weeks I realized why it is called break bone fever! My joints and muscles continued to hurt at the slightest effort and were swollen like they had been during my pregnancies. Eventually I felt better, the joint pain subsided and the rash finally faded. However all these months later there is one long lasting effect; I am seized with panic when I see a gray stripped mosquito flying around me. I am frantically swatting one right now as I sit at the pool writing this. Insect repellent and insect killer are never far from my reach. My family looks at me like I have three heads as I chase down a single mosquito like it is a murderer in a bad horror flick! Better to be safe than sorry. One bite is all it takes!

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.

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