Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Jessops Take Penang!

We were so excited to have my parents come and visit us! Craig kept telling everyone that his grandparents were going to bring Christmas to Penang and counted down the days! We were able to spend 18 wonderful days together and thought we'd put together some of the highlights of our time that we spent in Penang. One morning we got up and did my version of the Penang Heritage Tour. It's a fun way to highlight the different cultures that live together so closely. Our first stop was the Chew Jetty. This is where the Chinese dock workers used to live - right out over the ocean. Their posterity (the Chew family for this particular jetty) still live here today. If you look closely you can see that the row of houses are built out over the water and are held up partially by buckets of cement. Each jetty begins with a shrine for their ancestors.
Our next stop is the Khoo Kongsi, off of Armenian Street. This looks like a temple, but it a Clanhouse built by the Khoo family in the late 1800's. It is used for ancestral worship and also for performing rituals for deceased family members of the clan. It is one of the most beautifully maintained buildings in Penang, and a jewel of Chinese architecture. If it looks familiar to you, it was the background to a few scenes in the Jodi Foster movie, The King and I.
Our next stop, about a half block away was to the first Mosque built in Penang. Here is the Kapitan Keling Mosque, which is used 5 times a day and is at times overflowing with worshippers. We visited during a quiet morning and had the place to ourselves!
My mom and I were required to wear black robes while inside the building, and I was required to cover my hair. I don't know why my mom got to escape covering her hair. Craig and our host and tour guide hit it right off! Because of Craig's field trip to a mosque not too long ago Craig knew to sit on the ground. The tour guide sat with him!
Like I said, they really hit it off, and strolled around the place like old buddies! I have always been impressed by the beauty of the mosque's here. They are very serene.
Here is my mom, Craig and I with our tour guide in front of the main hall where worshippers come and pray. Women pray in another area that we were shown.
Next stop, and again, quite close, was the Goddess of Mercy Temple. This is thought to be the first Chinese temple built in Penang in the 1800's. It is a Buddhist - Taoist Temple and worshippers come to ask for blessings from the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin Ma. This temple is always extremely busy, with many rituals of worship being practiced inside. On this particular day I didn't take pictures inside because I didn't want to disturb those worshipping. I was given a tour on a different day where photo-taking was welcome and I'll have to post them another time! This is such a busy temple! There is a lot of incense and joss stick burning both inside and outside.
On to the next stop! Our final stop was the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple - just up the street from the Goddess of Mery Temple. This has been a hindu place of worship since 1801 and a temple since 1833. Again, this is a very active temple and I didn't want to disturb worshippers by snapping pictures, but here's the front.
That's a lot of culture for one morning! The crazy thing is that we weren't racing around town to see these places, they were mere blocks from each other. There is a Christian Church in the middle of all these temples but it is closed for renovations. So back to the E&O! All good things start or end at that grand old hotel! It was built in 1885 by the Sarkies Brothers from Armenia. It's still beautiful today and we had many breakfasts on the terrace facing the sea while my parents were with us!
Penang is such a fun destination because you can get a ton of diverse cultures one day and a beach bum day the next! Another place we spent a lot of time at was Batu Ferringhi beach. It's on Penang island, about a 20 minute drive from our place. We hired a boat one afternoon to take us around the tip of the island for my parents too see the beautiful views and lush forest that we have here.
We got to see lots of monkeys on the rocks as well as fishermen on our boat ride. We even got to see some eagles flying as well as some of their nests!
At one point, out in the open seas, Captain Craig was called on to steer the boat!
He was in heaven! He shouted out, "This is definitely going to go on our blog!" What a cutie!!!
Next up was some father/daughter bonding! We decided to head back to the beach and try parasailing! This was the first time for both of us and it was pretty awesome! Here's our takeoff
And here we are, high in the sky! This was a pretty awesome day!
We enjoyed relaxing on the beach until sunset! It was the perfect day for us! Not to sunny, with a slight breeze. My mom and I enjoyed some wonderful massages right on the beach while the boys relaxed and played in the sand.
The last stop of that day in Batu Ferringhi was a stop at our Tailor's, Parmanands. My dad got himself a complete wardrobe there!
Another day another adventure! One of my favorite streets in Penang is Lorong Burma. I go down this street twice a day on my day to drop Craig off and pick him up from school. I always get excited each day when I turn down this lane! What a sight to see during a drive to school! This street is home to a pair of beautiful Buddhist temples. The first one we saw was the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple. You can see part of the large statue of a standing Buddha behind us. This temple was constructed in 1803, and has had quite a few renovations since then
The Temple has beautiful grounds with lots of statues of different Buddhist stories. Here are the Craigs, ringing the bell!
Directly across the street is a Thai Buddhist Temple, Wat Chayamangkalaram. When we first got to Penang I didn't think I'd be able to tell the difference between the two types of architecture, but they are actually quite unique. I love the large Guardian Statues behind us! We have been trying to teach Craig that a peace sign is not obligatory in pictures, but he still sneaks them in when he can. Here is Craig with the reclining Buddha. Before you get upset and think we are being horribly disrespectful, relax!! Those mats were placed there on purpose and he was encouraged to pose like that by the temple caretakers. The reclining buddha's pose is the symbol of the Buddha at his final stage of enlightenment, close to his death and the temple also functions as a masoleum for families in Penang.
On to the most important part of the trip, my favorite spot to eat!! This is my absolute favorite breakfast spot, and I think you get the best food in Penang right here! My beloved Pulau Tikus wet market's Hawker stalls! This place is only open for breakfast, and believe me, I am there more often than I will even admit to my own husband. My personal favorite (and what I wake up craving) is tofu fa. A silky tofu covered in a wonderful brown sugar syrup. Best breakfast any day of the week! But Craig loves Char Koy Th'ng, which is a wonderful soup with pork, noodles, vegtables and (his favorite) fishballs. Brent favors the Wan Tan Mee, which is a soup with wan tans, noodles and spicy peppers. My parents liked them both - and they are absolutely delicious! One of the best parts is that I pay the equivalent of 20 cents for my tofu fa, 70 cents for the char koy th'ng, and $1 for the wan tan mee. Here is one of the best chefs in Penang. She makes the delicious wan tan mee! She loves Craig and likes singing Christmas carols with him. We certainly did a lot of shopping while my parents were here! I wish I'd taken pictures of all the back alleys filled with treasures. Here we are on Campbell street, in the heart of Chinatown. My parents filled their suitcases with art, wall hangings, Indian clothing and Chinese robes!
How did we ring in the new year? We spent New Year's Eve getting all refreshed and revitalised at our favorite reflexologist! We really did deserve it, we were quite busy!
Well, that does it for the highlights of Penang. But we still did more! Our next post will show an incredible trip of a lifetime! My parents even rode on elephants!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Carols, Cookies, and Christmas

We've had a very merry Christmas this year! When we came to Malaysia I thought that our holiday season would be less busy - partly because Malaysia is predominantly non-Christian and also because Jennifer wouldn't be involved in so much. Well, Jennifer pulled out all of the stops again this year and we've been busy from about Halloween to today - a week after New Year's.

Let's start at the beginning: carol singing. Jennifer is very talented musically. She plays the piano extremely well. For those that know, she can play a Bach two-part invention. If you know what that is, you know Jennifer is really good. Jennifer also sings beautifully. She'll never own up to it, but she is very musically talented. Penang has recognized her talents and taken full advantage during this Christmas. First, Jennifer was asked to help judge the annual Carol Singing Competition at the Queensbay Mall. Here she is, complete with a nameplate that says "Jennifer", a pencil, and a scoring sheet.

Now, the organizers probably didn't realize this at the time, but there really was no better choice of venue, at least for Jennifer. The competition was held on the all-pink Barbie Fashion Fairytale stage, which is very Jennifer Pink. There were eight groups that performed, and all did very well. Some of the favorites included "O Come, All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night", and, of course, "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas". Here is the choir from the local Chinese girls highschool.

Here is Jennifer handing out the trophy to the first-place winner, who is also a nurse at the local Adventist hospital.

Penang didn't stop there with the use of Jennifer's musical talents. Jennifer performed with the Penang State Philharmonic Choir on two separate occasions during the month of December. The first performance was a capella at the Penang Turf Club. Jennifer is the one with the blonde hair.

Jennifer also performed to a sold-out crowd at the famous E & O Hotel on December 23rd. It was a marvellous concert accompanied by the full Penang State Symphony, and we were happy that Jennifer's mom and dad could join us as well. They sang all of the familiar carols, and also some original pieces written just for this performance. Again, look for the cute blonde towards the left.

"There's a tree at the E & O..." Jennifer, Craig, and her mom (RaNae), and her dad (Craig) stand in front of the tree in the lobby of the E & O Hotel before the performance.

As I mentioned, Jennifer is not only a talented singer, but also a talented pianist. She plays the piano to accompany the singing at church every Sunday. She is also the musical director for the church choir. As such, she programmed the entire Christmas pageant that our little branch performed this year. She also made all of the costumes, assigned the roles, and wrote the script of the best Christmas pagent that Penang has ever seen. In the words of President Choong: "Wow, I had no idea we were doing this".

After the Christmas Pagent, we enjoyed a visit from Father Christmas himself. He seemed to be in a bit of a hurry to make other stops (he is busy this time of year, you know). So, he simply danced a Christmas jig and uncermoniously tossed gifts from his big old sack into the crowd.

Next are the cookies. Now, because Jennifer has, according to her mother, a defective gene, she must throw parties. We only had two Christmas parties at our house this year. Jennifer baked Christmas cookies and we had or guests decorate them and take them home. The first party was with some other expats that I work with who have children close to Craig's age. They were really creative and really cute. And, as you can imagine, most of the cookies were eaten right after being frosted.

Jennifer also offered to throw a party for my team that I work with in Malaysia. Knowing what excellent parties Jennifer can assemble, I couldn't turn her down. Cookie decorating was a first for our guests at this party, which also included a gift exchange and a home cooked "traditional American" Christmas dinner (also courtesy of Jennifer). Starting from the left, you have Joey, Catherine, Chloe, Li Ting, Jennifer, and Craig.

Jennifer's trainer, Gary, aslo popped up for a quick visit and a taste of Jennifer's culinary handiwork. He was very impressed, and commented positively on the surge in energy he felt after having such a great meal.

You might be saying to yourself, "wow, Jennifer sure does a lot at Christmas time". You're right. But there are two other parties that she also threw at Craig's school. The first was a Christmas celebration for the entire school, complete with a visit from Father Christmas who arrived in a convertable BMW, which was preceeded by a motorcade escort.

Here is Craig with one of his best friends, Navid, who is from Iran, at his classroom's Christmas celebration.

The night after the school Christmas celebration, Jennifer baked a few dozen red velved cupcakes and decorated them with green frosting so that they looked like miniature Christmas trees. She took them to Craig's school for his last day of term party.

Here is Craig playing musical chairs at his end of term party. The children got to wear party clothes instead of their school uniforms. In Malaysia, that means a batik shirt. Since we couldn't find a Christmas-themed batik, we let Craig pick one out. He very appropriately chose one with a lizard pattern.

And of course, there was Christmas. As I mentioned, we were blessed to have Jennifer's parents join us. They aren't like your typical in-laws, we all get along just fine. At least I do. I don't know if Jennifer's mother will ever be the same after I permanently altered the lyrics to "Oklahoma!" in her mind. But, that's another post. Jennifer's parents loved it here, and Craig really loved having his grandparents around. Here is Grandpa doing what he loves to do at Christmas time.

Even though we are halfway around the world, Jennifer and her siblings arranged to carry on the tradition of the Jessop Family Christmas Pagent. We did this one virtually by huddling around webcams and cradling cell phones, but everyone dressed up as shepherds or angels and it was a lot of fun. "Shepherd" Craig was excited to see and hear all of his cousins in Texas.

Santa comes early to Malaysia, and Craig heard the sleigh bells ringing late on Christmas Eve. He was excited to open all of the stuff that Santa brought, and also all of the presents he has only been able to stare at for the past few weeks.

Craig would triumphantly hold up each present after he opened it, and recite a victorious little jingle. He loved everything he got, from books to toys and clothes to a harmonica (with which he promptly entertained us all with his rendition of Silent Night). He wouldn't take the Ben 10 shirt off for three days.

We had a wonderful Christmas and enjoyed all of our visitors. We're so grateful for our new friends in Malaysia that we can share the Holidays with, and we're also especially grateful for Craig and RaNae braving the 30 hour journey weaving through airports and security checks to join us.

Last but not least, I'm grateful for Jennifer and Craig. Jennifer works hard to make sure we're enjoying every minute of our time in Malaysia, and Craig is quite happy to tag along. Here we are on Christmas morning at the Penang International Airport, enjoying a quick snack before we get on a plane for our next adventure, and a trip of a lifetime. But that's for the next post. Thank you Jennifer! Merry Christmas!