Settling in, paparazzi, and the universal language of swimming

At the best of times, a walk along the beach is a very slow affair, stopping to pick up shells, run around, and get the wheelchair unbogged. But in Malaysia, traveling with Baby Boy, we are constantly stopped for photos by clucking cooing locals. He smiles obligingly, and occasionally agrees to be cuddled. We strike a deal; you photograph our baby, we photograph you photographing our baby. Ok?

We have found a ‘home’ for a few weeks, an apartment block full of locals, retirees and expats. There are a few Brits escaping the winter with a 4 month lease in tropical Malaysia, including one that uses the word ‘natives’ in such a way that makes even my few politically correct bones shudder.


We already have our favourite roti stall, puri stall, satay stall and kopi stall (strong but not too sweet)

The apartment is a 10 minute walk to the beach, also to a bewildering array of foods. Each night, a busy market fires up along the main street. After a few nights, we stop being hustled to buy, and stall holders greet us as familiar faces. They count our children; “Lima! (five) Very good, very good!” “Who is the first?” We don’t usually go into the whole quadruplets story, we just point at Sparky and say ‘first’.  Which she proudly is.


Now that we have a place of our own for a few weeks we can recover from the grotty colds we picked up in KL and do the odd bit of formal homeschooling. Our aim is to swim everyday, for me to go to the gym, and to do lots of ABR hours with Sparky. And try a real Penang laksa. From where we stand on the balcony of our apartment, the whole sky can be seen, and its’ sometimes full of flashes of lightening. The rain is so heavy, big fat drops, that we worry we will not hear the children in the next room. ( I worry, Chris is not the worrying type)

The rain overflows the pool below, and floods the pavement that surrounds it. I was glad we are not walking on the dark road in the rain, but tucked up in our new home, with cups of tea and a couch big enough for seven.

Until now we’ve spent time in backpackers’ and hostels. Last time I was a backpacker was in 1996. It’s changed. Back then you were pretty techie if you carried a CD player instead of a cassette Walkman. Now, it seem everyone is wired up to an iPhone or laptop. Groups sit huddled around the power sockets in silence. Or sometimes skyping home in a language they assume no one else at the table understands. Couples sit together, face booking separately. Before finding our apartment in Penang, we stayed at the very funky Lazyboyz guest house. Hammocks, a 15kg washing machine and a manager called Aslan (serious!) ensured the place appealed to all of us. It was not really a family place,  however, our lot made plenty of friends.

It is great to have our own space, and we love the pool at our apartment block.

Today, an older man approached us in the pool and asked if Sparky was five. That is, he raised his hand with five fingers showing.

“Lapan” Chris replied in Malay. “eight”

“I’m Japansese,” he replied,  (So much for the Malay)

“Swimming teacher” he said

He motioned to have a hold of Sparky, and spent the next 15 minutes with her in the pool. He blew bubbles to make her laugh, and swooshed her in the water round and round. He got her to kick along in the water, smiling his big smile, and she laughed and laughed.

Chris and I faltered with three words of Japanese between us, but Sparky was in her element.  Non verbal communication is her forte, and trusting relative strangers with her physical safety is something she has had to do for years now. She was quick to endear herself with a big smile, and will always yell out if she feels unsafe.

When the shivering got too much, Sparky hopped out and Tintin had a lesson.  Laughter and splashing punctuated the Japanese and English. The teacher corrected his stroke and showed him bilateral breathing.

Another day, Tintin was able to respond in kind, proudly giving a swimming lesson to some friends at the beach, no language required!

Joke of the day ” Why did the rambutan top half way down the hill?”

“To get a haircut”


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4 Responses to Settling in, paparazzi, and the universal language of swimming

  1. Meredith February 4, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    Hello travellers! Just found your blog via a Facebook link – and what a joy to read. You are inspiring…but you always have been…just even more now. Looking forward to reading more. Go well. Will pray for you now as I sign off.

    • Jill February 4, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

      Hi! I was just reading your blog today! ( followed a link about a family devotion, thankyou!)
      So lovely to hear from you!

  2. Bron February 6, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    Love penang xxx looks amazing through your eyes and thrilled you discovered the great food and swimming xx enjoy. We will be there in july!

  3. A. Voluntourista May 6, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    You have an amazing family and story. Quite inspirational indeed. Thank you for sharing! -Amy

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