Thursday, December 22, 2011

Craig Conducts the Penang Philharmonic

Last night was Jennifer's performance with the Penang Philharmonic Symphony and Choir! We got to enjoy musical serenades featuring some well known carols, a few quiet compositions from John Rutter, and some original compositions from the conductor as well. Can you spot Jennifer? She's the one with the flashy earrings.

Some of our friends also participated in the fun. The conductor, Martin Rutherford, lives in our building and is very fond of Craig.

Here is Dick Yeap, a 16-year-old violin virtuoso who is a member of the symphony. He's also a member of our Young Men's organization and has memorized D&C Section 4!

Here is Ninian LeBlanc (who likes very much to wear red velvet with white trim) singing in the bass section. His wife, Swan, also sings in the choir.

And here is Jennifer, who sings soprano and is the most conspicuously beautiful singer in the choir. They asked her not to wear her "flashy" earrings so that she wouldn't stand out. Could it be that the earrings make no difference? I think she stands out no matter what!

We had a visit from Father Christmas after singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town". He handed out sweets to all the children and also got a special chance to conduct the choir and symphony in a rousing rendition of Jingle Bells.

We also had another guest conductor this evening. This particular maestro has studied music and singing since an early age. His repertoire includes songs like "I Hate People" from the musical "Scrooge", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", and "We Are the Children of St. Christopher's", among many others. Here is our very own Craig in his musical conducting debut! Click the arrow to see the entire performance!

Craig was grinning from ear to ear! He was an instant hit, and spent the rest of the night signing autographs and shaking hands with the audience.

Here are two of the fun original compositions that the choir sang. The first is called "Cowboy Carol", and the second is called "The Holly and the Ivy". They are really fun! Click on the arrow to watch the whole thing!

We wish everyone could have been there! We had a great time and I'm so proud of my beautiful wife and sweet boy for helping put on such a great musical performance! What can I say? I think it's in their blood. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Santa Claus is Coming to Penang!

Merry Christmas from Malaysia! There's still five days 'till Christmas and we've already had a whirlwind of fun!

We jump started our holidays with a celebration at our house with my staff and co-workers. Jennifer made lunch and we all played games and exchanged gifts. From left to right is Chloe, Joey, Catherine, Jennie, Jennifer, and me.

We did a Christmas gift exchange as part of the fun.

A few days later Craig had a special visitor at school! Here is the entire student body at St. Christopher's, all waiting for Father Christmas himself!

Santa made his grand entrance on a school bus this year. Here is Jennifer and her "elves" from the PTC with Santa's bus. The bus driver was absolutely thrilled to be transporting the Man in Red.

Santa Claus arrived to thundering cheers from all of the students!

All of the students got a chance to visit with Santa. Here is Craig and his Year 2 class with jolly old St. Nick.

Craig was sure to tell Santa that he wanted Harry Potter Legos for Christmas this year.

Here is one of Santa's official helpers with Jennifer and Craig. Can you guess who it is? Whoever he is, he's one handsome guy!

This week we put together gingerbread houses with some of our friends in Penang. Here is Craig with Katie (left) and Lauren (right) decorating their edible edifices. The bowls of candy were empty by the end of the night. I figure about half of the pieces actually made it onto a house.

We built four houses - one for Katie, one for Lauren, one for Craig... and one for Jennifer. Here is the happy little girl assembling her dream home with candy canes, gumdrops, and colored sprinkles (known as "hundreds and thousands" to our Aussie friends)

Craig was quite proud of his house, which wasn't really a house, but a place of business. He built a bank where Ebeneezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit count their money. I guess we've let him watch A Christmas Carol a few times this year...

Here are all the houses in a row, just like a little gingerbread lane!

All the kids had a great time eating and decorating (and eating), especially these two!

We also had our 2nd annual Christmas Pageant with our little Penang Branch. Jennifer programmed the whole night and provided the music. This year's performance featured more characters, a guitar solo from a shepherd, and a Bach violin and piano prelude. We had a great time and really felt the Spirit of Christmas.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Water Temple

If you've read our other posts about Bali you've probably figured out that Bali has many thousands of temples. This is the last temple from our visit last October. As we drove up to it, Craig complained "not another temple!" But, the Water Temple turned out to be one of his favorites! Here we are standing in front of a doorway to the outer courtyard in our sarongs. Sarongs and sashes are required for adults, but kids can wear normal clothes inside a temple.

The Water Temple was built around a freshwater spring. The cool, crystal clear flowing waters are considered a miracle by the locals, and they're right. Finding a clean source of cold water in the middle of the jungle is a miracle indeed!

The water is used for holy cleansing. Worshippers will get into the water and wash themselves under each one of the fountains below.

After a long day visiting volcanoes and doing some shopping, tourists can also find refreshment to their tired feet by wading into the water.

Temple patrons also come here to pray and bring offerings. They carry the offerings in large baskets on their heads and leave them in front of the temple altars. The offerings are usually fruits and incense with some decorative leaves woven in.

Here is the main temple sanctuary where patrons come to pray.

In Bali, temple attendance is a family affair. The women typically wear a kebaya with a sarong. The men wear a sarong with a regular shirt, and apron, and a batik headband.

No temple is complete without guardian statues. Craig found a set of tigers guarding this altar. He learned to make tiger hands during his class presentation at school.

In Bali, there is no specific day of worship. Instead, villages will arrange temple trips via bus periodically. These young ladies are wearing the traditional colors of their village while visiting the Water Temple.

Part of the temple housed a large coy fish pond. Feeding these over-sized goldfish is one of Craig's favorite activities!

Here we are next to the holy water fountains. The Water Temple was like a cool oasis, and gave us a much needed break from the sweltering hot air in other parts of the jungle.

Even Craig was happy to visit another temple!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why Monkeys are Bad, Except Hanuman

Monkeys. To the uninitiated, a monkey may be a cute creature, or perhaps a funny pet. It is a fuzzy animal that possesses some human-like qualities, making them relatable or endearing. In movies, we're made to think monkeys are comedians, like King Louis from "The Jungle Book" or that annoying monkey from "Pirates of the Caribbean". Or, monkeys are portrayed as mis-understood, gentle giants, like in "Gorillas in the Mist" or the recent "Planet of the Apes". We're even made to feel bad for King Kong. After all, wasn't he just a misguided soul, fighting to protect the love of his life? Don't believe any of this media propaganda. Monkeys are bad.

The jungles in Bali are crawling with long-tail macaques. These furry creatures are super smart and super fast. They will steal the sunglasses off your face and eat them before you can say "holy monkey, Batman!".

We went for a stroll through the Monkey Forest near Ubud. We weren't there to see the monkeys, but to see the colorful monkey temple. On our way to the temple, one macaque noticed a brightly colored parcel peeking out of our friend's bag. He snuck up behind our friend, grabbed the red package, and ran just out of reach in order to investigate his spoils. The joke was on the monkey this time, as he only got a mouthful of wet wipes.

Monkeys here are allowed to roam freely, terrorizing tourists as they peruse the stone carvings near the forest temple.

For Craig, a walk through Monkey Forest might as well have been a ride in a haunted house. He knows that monkeys aren't exactly friendly, so walking through a forest that is a safe haven to these furry beasts that try to sneak up on you and steal your things can be quite frightening.

But it wasn't all bad. Craig liked to visit a statue representing his old friend, the Naga. It's not the seven-headed version like we saw at Angkor Wat, but it is still familiar. Nagas don't try to steal your stuff, either.

Near the center of the forest is an old banyan tree. This is a very sacred tree in Balinese culture. Each temple has a banyan tree located somewhere on the grounds. Even the monkeys respected it, and didn't try to climb it (at least while we were there).

We've seen lots of different types of guardian statues in our tours of Southeast Asia. Nagas, dragons, lions, and tigers have all made appearances as sentinels warding off demons. This is the first pig we've seen, so we had to get a picture!

Here we are in front of the holy sanctuary of the temple. The gates represent the good and evil side that each person has. By passing through them you leave your evil self behind and only bring with you your good self.

Here's a closer look at the main sanctuary. This is where offerings of fruit, flowers, and incense are left for the deities that make their home inside the temple.

The temple gates are adorned with fierce looking guardian monkeys sheltered by Balinese style umbrellas. As with other statues, they are wearing a traditional black and white sarong.

You may be wondering to yourself why the Balinese would build a temple that seems to be made in honor of theiving little monkeys. Well, there is one good monkey - Hanuman. Hanuman is the king of the monkeys. He's like superman. He helped Rama rescue Sita from the evil Ravannah!

Nothing scares Hanuman, not even a ring of fire that Ravannah and his henchmen used to try and contain the white monkey king!

In fact, Hanuman can use the enemy's ring of fire against him! Take that, Ravannah!

Hanuman is so cool, that Craig clammors to get his picture taken with him. That's Hanuman on the right. Ravannah is on the left, standing next to Sita's handmaid. Craig is in front with Hanuman's monkey army.

Craig had to get his picture taken standing right next to Hanuman. Craig is definitely not afraid of Hanuman.

The story of Rama and Sita is not unique to Bali. It is a key religious story for all Hindus and many Bhuddists as well. In Bali, this story is presented through dance and the "cek cek" male chorus. The male chorus is meant to sound like an army of monkeys retelling the story of how Hanuman helped Rama save Sita from Ravannah. Click on the arrow below to hear a sample of the monkey chatter.

So, the next time you see a monkey in the wild, you've been warned! Stay away, or they'll steal your stuff!. All monkeys are bad! Except Hanuamn, who is really cool!!