Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Field Trip of World Religions!

Craig's school really makes learning fun! The Year 1 classes (Year 1 is the American equivalent of kindergarten, but on some serious steroids!!) at St. Christopher's have been learning about Festivals and Religions of the world. It's the perfect place to learn about world cultures, here in Malaysia! Malaysians are divided pretty equally into three distinct groups of people: Malay Malaysians, Chinese Malaysians, and Indian Malaysians. Malay Malaysians are Muslim. Malaysia is actually a Muslim Nation; something I didn't know before moving here. Chinese Malaysians are largely Buddhist, although our congregration is largely comprised of Chinese Malaysians. Indian Malaysians are largely Hindu or Muslim. I say largely with the Chinese and Indian populations because they are able to choose their religion. Part of Muslim teaching makes it hard to switch religions, and it is actually against the law in Malaysia. These three groups live side by side but maintain a strong sense of their heritage. Their food, holidays, and manner of dress are all dictated by their heritage. Even their government ID's will clarify which group an individual belongs to, so in addition to national pride there is an even stronger sense of pride of one's heritage. With such a diverse population living together, Craig is really able to learn a lot about the different religions and cultures around him! His school, very ambitiously, planned a field trip for the 1st year students to visit a Muslim Mosque, a Hindu Temple and a Christian Church. They haven't studied Buddhism yet, but will soon! I was very lucky to get to accompany the class on the field trip! Here is Craig on the bus! This is Sarah Kelly and I. Sarah was able to accompany her son's class as well. We met the children at the first stop, the Floating Mosque.

Here is the group of children I got to take the tour with! They are all in their yellow house shirts (just like Harry Potter!) the children were divided into their houses so that we could keep better eyes on them.
Inside the Mosque it was very beautiful and serene. They showed us the ritual cleansing a person must do before they pray. They cleanse themselves 3 times. I was suprised to find out that Craig already knew that. He also knew that there would be no images of people or animals. There were patterns and flowers instead.
After the cleansing, the children were invited to sit in the main area of the mosque. Usually the women will sit on a balcony above where the men sit, but they let the class stay together. The children watched as the clergyman showed them a typical Muslim Prayer. We actually hear the Call to Prayer several times a day since we live quite close to a mosque. It's a very beautiful chant that they do from the Mosque towers.
This is the podium, which the Mullah gives lectures from every Friday. He will only use the podium on Fridays at lunch time. All other times people gather to pray (5 times a day!) without the additional sermon. Our next stop was a Hindu Temple! It was just a short, 5 minute drive from the Mosque.
Here is Craig and one of his classmates at the entrance of the Temple. They are standing in front of the Gods Rama and Sita. Craig knows the whole story behind these two, but I don't!
Here is the inside of the temple, with different statues of the Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu Faith.
Here is the altar for Ganesha, a Hindu God with the Head of an elephant and body of a human.
The priest at the temple showed the children how the Hindu people pray and gave blessings, in the form of a red dot on their forehead to anyone child who wanted one.
The final stop of the tour was to a Catholic Cathedral here in Penang. This was the representative of the Christian Denominations of the world. They showed the video of the Christmas story and then took the children through the Cathedral.
I was pretty impressed that 75 5 and 6-year-olds were able to sit quite still in three different houses of worship!
The priest invited the children up to the altar, and showed them some of the rituals that go on during a typical service.
Finally, the Priest opened the floor to questions, and there were quite a few! Here is one of Craig's favorite classmates, Kai Ru (Chinese Malaysian) full of questions for the priest!
After a quick snack is was back on the bus, and off to school! We feel really lucky that Craig is exposed to so many new and different things! And he's picking up a few local customs, as well!
Isn't Malaysia a wonderfully diverse country? We have enjoyed learning about the different cultures and religions of the people here. As it's the Christmas Season I thought I'd also show you our Christmas Stockings! In our rush the get to Malaysia I forgot to pack them and so I had to make some new ones to hang. The top on is Brent's and it represents the Indian culture here in Malaysia, the middle one is mine, and it represents the Malay people and the bottom one is Craig's, it represents the Chinese culture. I know we didn't visit a Chinese Temple on the field trip, but Penang is largely Chinese and he will study the Buddhist religion after Christmas. Now someone asked why Christianity wasn't represented on the stockings. First of all, we are a family of 3!! Second of all, the stockings themselves represent Christianity - we are the only ones who celebrate Christmas!!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Happy Birthday, Happy Thanksgiving and Festivous for the Rest of Us!

Time is flying so fast!! I can't believe how quickly the holidays have come! Before we dive into our Christmas happenings here in Penang, I wanted to post about our exciting November! As you must all know, by far and away my favorite holiday is my own birthday (Nov. 14th and my favorite color is pink, in case you're wondering for next year!) This year Brent had to fly back to the US for work, so my friends, Nina Wilson and Sarah Kelly worked really hard to make sure I had a great day! Here we are in front of the Suffolk House, an old English Manor that has been turned into a restaurant here in Penang. Craig decided to join us for the afternoon, he was feeling a little nervous without his daddy around.
The Suffolk House serves traditional English High Tea on the weekends, it was such a treat! Here is Nina and myself sitting on the beautiful terrace with a view of the garden. Craig was busy chasing invisible aliens in the garden, so it was a very relaxing teatime for me!
Here are Nina and Sarah with the beautiful tea service, I was served my favorite herbal tea, peppermint. Many of the English customs are followed here because Penang is a former British colony. I always say that living in Penang is really like cheating. That's because we get to live in Southeast Asia, but since Penang was a British colony English is a very commonly spoken language here so it's easy to get around. Best of both worlds!
After our High Tea I was treated to a much needed pedicure! Craig came along for that as well, and was quite insistent that he wanted me to have Shrek blue toes as a birthday treat. To my suprise, I loved the color! I even asked my sister to send me the color for Christmas, but she wasn't so sure about it. Look, Elizabeth!! It's really pretty!
My friends really took care of me!! After our pedicure we headed back to Nina's house and had a wonderful dinner (a post needs to be dedicated to the delicousness of the food!) and cake! I really lucked out that the Kelly and Wilson families both moved to Penang at the same time that we did. Our children all play so well together and I am with Sarah and Nina almost every day exploring this great place! It's made the adjustment so much easier on everyone!
Brent was such a sweetheart! He felt bad that he had to miss my birthday and made sure I got a great present! Because of an early anniversary present that he gave me before we came to Penang I told him he didn't need to get me anything else for quite a while. But look what he got me!! An iphone! I read once that iphone users would rate it a tragedy if something happened to their iphone. I thought that was ridiculous at the time. Now, I agree! Thanks, sweetheart!!Now this is why I am so shocked at how time flies! As soon as Brent got back into town it was time to celebrate Thanksgiving! Brent brought back all the essentials for Thanksgiving dinner in his suitcase, so I guess it was a good thing he got to go back to the States for a bit (plus I got my iphone!) My mom made sure that the children had feathers to make Native American headresses, a tradition at my house growing up. Here we are, back at the Wilson home with all the kids!
The children were extra lucky, because they got their own table with McDonald's chicken nuggets and juice boxes! Katie Wilson said to her mom, "Thanks for not making us eat vegtables today!" I guess we all need to be thankful for something on Thanksgiving Day!
Here's our buffet dinner! Nina, Sarah and I cooked all day! I must say it's a little easier to cook Thanksgiving dinner in a country that doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving. Why? Because all the kids were in school and weren't running around while we were cooking! We had a Turkey (don't get me stared on how hard that was to find!), mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, creamed vegtables, corn bread muffins, cranberry sauce and pumpkin and apple pie!
And here is the adult table! We gathered around the table to celebrate Thanksgiving with all the finance expats here in Penang. It was a wonderful day! We were all thankful to be living here for a small time, and happy to be spending the American holiday together! Around the table are Kelly and Wade, Sarah and Shawn, Dan and Nina, Beau and Mandy (with their cute baby!) and last, Brent and myself.
Thanksgiving day is a double holiday for Brent and I! We got engaged Thanksgiving night. This was the 10th anniversary of our engagement! (as a side note, Brent wanted to ask my father for my hand immediately after he asked me. My father had already gone to bed and was reading a book, but that didn't stop my sweetheart! He knocked on the door and asked to speak to him. My dad, who is a bit eccentric in a very endearing way, said that he could talk to him, made room for him on the bed, opened the covers and said, "come on in!" So I snuck a peak at Brent and my dad lounging on the bed discussing our future. Very funny!) For the occasion, after 10 years of telling him I make a good apple pie, I decided to actually make one for him!
Not to dwell on any holiday too long, the next night we got all dressed up to attend the Finance Annual Dinner held at the E & O. You may remember this historic British hotel from the Fabulous Ladies (or was it Luscious?) of Penang pink event. Here it is all decked out for Christmas! And here Brent and I are, 10 years after our engagment and still as happy as ever!
And here are our friends again, the Wilson and Kelly couples! How fun to get all dressed up and leave the kids with a sitter for a change! Really - this was the first night since we've been in Penang that we have gone out without Craig. And he did just fine!
We had a great time at the Annual Dinner! Here are some of Brent's co-workers. Right after the entire room danced the chicken dance. I guess you never know what will happen at these events!
As for Festivus for the Rest of Us (if you don't know what that is, find some Seinfeld reruns!!) I really don't have any grievances except that time is going by so quickly!! There is never a dull moment around here!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Three Nights in Bangkok

For our latest trip, we traded sandy beaches of the South China Sea for the golden temples of Bangkok. The capital of Thailand is a short, 2 hour plane ride away from Penang. My first impression of Bangkok was that it is huge - home to over 9 million people and covering more than 15 thousand square miles of land. Once you get past the size, you start to notice the unmistakable bits of Thai culture sprinkled in nearly every nook and cranny. And the Chao Phraya river runs through it all.

Like many other cities in Southeast Asia, Bangkok is subject to heavy monsoon rains. As parts of Bangkok are below sea level, the government has created a series of canals that help divert overflow water from the Chao Phraya river to safer drainage areas. These canals also make for great roads, especially since the surface streets in Bangkok are teeming with taxis, tuk-tuks, buses, and trucks. We took advantage of a water taxi with our freinds, the Kelly's. The boats are very long and very narrow. They are powered by a giant car engine that has a long shaft leading to the propeller. The boat is steered by swinging the entire engine about by the shaft it rests on. Yes, the kids always had their life jackets on.

We passed through several locks on the canal, saw some of the local neighborhoods, did some shopping, and fed some fish.

This is a typical house on the canal. Wouldn't it be great to walk out onto your own private jetty on the mighty Chao Phraya river?

Unfortunately for us, Bangkok was experiencing some flooding, so the famous floating markets were closed. However, we still found one ambitious floating shop open on the river. Her tiny boat carried everything from souveniers to snacks.

Craig bartered very hard, and was able to pick up a nice set of pencils and erasers from the floating convenience store for just a few baht.

Like most large, warm water rivers, the Chao Phraya is loaded with catfish. Craig and the other kids tossed hunks of bread into the river, causing a the surface to come alive with a catfish feeding frenzy. Jennifer thought it was cool, but there was no way she was going to touch one of them.

Along the river you can see all sorts of wonderful buildings. We saw Christian churches, Muslim mosques, Chinese temples, and ancient Thai buddhist temples as well.

This is Wat Arun, which means Temple of the Sunrise. It was built right along the Chao Phraya river. At the top of the central prang, or tower, is the seven-pronged trident of the Hindu god, Shiva.

Almost every inch of Wat Arun has some sort of sculpture or decoration. There are people, various representations of deity, lions, guardians, and other statues adorning every inch of every corner.

The walls are covered with statues of various guardians and colored with pices of ceramic or china.

The main prang is surrounded by six sattelite prangs which are dedicated to the god Phra Prai. The river is never far away.

Across the river from Wat Arun is Wat Pho, which is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. These towers behind Jennifer and Craig are the tombs of former Thai kings. The blue one is the tomb for the Thai king featured in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "The King and I".

These golden buddha statues are placed here in honor of the families who help sponsor the temple.

Wat Pho is also home to an enormous, gold-clad reclining buddha. Here we are near the head. The statue is so huge, that the builders sculpted the statue first, and then built the temple around it.

This is the reclining buddha's face. It is said that this is how Buddha looked, just before he died.

Here we are at the foot of the reclining buddha. The feet are inlaid with mother of pearl, with the left foot a mirror image of the right.

Down the street from Wat Pho is the Royal Palace. The Palace has various buildings, including living quarters and various temples. Here we are at the steps to the living quarters.

The entryways are all guarded by these enormous guardian statues. They offer protection from invaders.

The palace is home to the famous Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha is actually made of jade, and is the largest such buddha in the world. The buddha is enshrined in a separate building, which is surrounded by these eagle guardians.

The signature towers and rooflines of Thai architecture are seen in this group of Palace buildings.

One thing you have to understand, is that Jennifer likes big cities. She will go all day long, and only stop to sleep when there is no other option. So, in keeping with Jennifer's tradition in a big city, we stayed up one night to watch some Thai dancing.

Craig got a chance to go up on stage and try out dancing between two bamboo poles. You have to be quick, or the bamboo poles will shut on your ankles!

Craig also got to show off his amazing sword fighting skills after the sword fighting demonstration.

It was a fun night of experiencing some traditional Thai culture.

This part is for you, Boo. Food in Thailand is awesome. Craig loves Chicken Satay with peanut sauce. Jennifer and I enjoy the Thai green curry, the jasmine rice, and drinking coconut milk directly from a coconut.

Thailand was really awesome, and it's definitely on our list of places to visit again. The people are so friendly, the food is so good, and the culture is so vibrant that we didn't get enough of it during our quick visit.