This weekend has been absolutely fantastic – I’ve felt like I’m on holiday. Which, of course, I’m not! This is a working trip. But I can’t deny that I’m very chuffed to now feel like, well, like I’m away on some beautiful far off shore.
On Thursday afternoon, Dr. Wan asked us if she could drop us anywhere in particular. We didn’t want to impose, but she insisted that our destination was on her way home anyway – Chinatown. We were there with purpose, having been told that it was the one real place where we could get baking ingredients. We’d both read and thought that a gift representative of Britain would be nice so we’ve been hoping to give a charming Victoria sponge and a lemon drizzle cake to the postgrads in the office when we leave, as they’ve been so kind to us and have taken us out to sample each and every Malay food they can get their hands on. In addition, for our pseudo-babysitters Awin and Kirat, we were wanting to make a tiny run of Royal-Wedding-street-party-esque red, white and blue bunting for their cubicles. Walking along the street from where we were so kindly dropped, we did some nice sightseeing in the warm orange sunlight.
I was very fond of this bicycle outside a firework shop, decorated like a paper horse.
In addition to grabbing baking ingredients and a packet of pancake mix from our previously visited supermarket (which actually turned out to be a three storey department store that even sold ready made curtains), we found a cute little shop from which we bought four buttons, a spool of thread, a wheel of white ribbon and a tiny pack of needles, while I gazed longingly at yards and yards of gold and red lace. We returned home and spent a quiet night in, heading to bed for a ridiculously 14 hours sleep.
Oh, shush! We’ve been up at 6:15am every morning for a week!
Waking on Friday, we dined first on our pancakes. They could only be called pancakes if you consider that they were composed of a cake-like material and cooked in a pan, if you consider a wok a kind of pan. Discovering an absence of frying pans in the house, we attempted first to cook our pancakes in a saucepan and recreate a cool flipping trick which Jess described our friend Hannah effortlessly achieving on our field course earlier in the summer. Our attempt was… less effortless, and scraping the burnt remains of the pancake out of the pan (and putting in on to boil hot water for my first cup of Tetley thus far in my stay) we called Attempt One a flop.
Attempt Two, in a sping form cake tin with pin-prick holes in the bottom (which still managed to spit tiny globules of oil into the gas fire below) didn’t go much better. We started hitting a real stride with Attempts Three and up, in which we harnessed the wok, though they ended up loosing all shape due to the action of gravity and the curvature of the wok itself which collected a thick layer of uncooked batter in the middle bottom, unless shuggled about violently. In the end our pancakes were not unpleasant – they had a decidedly salty taste which our of wishful thinking we put down to the vast quantities of Vitalite we’d used to grease the wok, as opposed to the remaining flavour of any previous cooking adventures it took part in. We covered the salty taste with Oreo ice cream.
After waiting for breakfast to go down, we decided to fulfil Jess’s one stipulation about our time here – go to the beach. We’d heard what could only be termed ‘horror stories’ about swimming around here, with, “Oooh, no, too strong, very dangerous” from the students in the office, and even when no one had said so in so many words there seemed to be an unspoken atmosphere of ‘no one swims on the beaches’. We really didn’t know why, and checked online repeatedly for some kind of warning about dangerous marine life or terribly strong waves and people drowning constantly or, I don’t know, evil pirate ghosts? Nothing.
Now we weren’t going to let that stop us, but I must admit to some trepidation. It took me two different pools, an assortment of swimming teachers and about half a decade to learn to swim. I’m not even very good – I can survive if dumped off a boat, and I can swim from Point A to Point B with a tiny trace of grace, but that’s about it.
But I remember Jess and I bobbing delighted in a gently wavy ocean, on a beach with icing sugar-fine white sand on which there was not a single other soul. I turned to her and I think I just said, “I haven’t drowned yet.” Quite the non sequitur.
So over the course of a long afternoon we had two dips in the ocean, and a nice long stretch sunbathing in between the two. Unfortunately, there was a strong but incredibly pleasant breeze that kept us a lovely temperature but meant that we kind of didn’t appreciate the heat of the sun. Within the following few hours we were a roasted lobster red, and have been generous applying aftersun to each other’s backs in a kind of cool massage that amounts to the only spa treatment I’m likely to get while away!
Today we visited the Muzium Negeri Teregganu – the state museum, and the largest museum in Malaysia. It’s a collection of giant buildings all in the traditional style but concrete, built in 1996.
They’re connected across floors by high bridges and walkways, as well as a huge collection of outbuildings with smaller exhibits about Terengganu’s maritime history –
– set in sprawling land full of flowers and native plants –
– with some aviaries –
– pens for geese (evil, evil things) and a collection of traditional boats in an almost garden of sorts.
We visited the jetty which promised a river cruise to the other main attraction in KT, the Taman Tamadan Islam cultural park, with replicas of all the famous mosques from around the world. But completely devoid as the jetty was of any boat, life or sign of any kind indicating that either of the previous two options existed nor left at regularly timed intervals, we decided to call it a day and leave that as a separate adventure for our next spare weekend. We called Abdullah who picked us up sharpish, and headed back to the lodge for a fun afternoon that involved finishing our Miranda watch through and baking a ‘proof of concept’ cake in the strange little countertop oven with the rotating base. It is the spitting image of the thing my flat was given in first year when our oven broke, during the two week period when we had both the old, broken oven and the new, shiny oven (awaiting installation) sat in the middle of our kitchen and gradually becoming so commonplace that they ended up being used just sort of as end tables. It lost heat through all of the sides and kept making my bread in the cupboard above go off. We couldn’t successfully cook a pizza in that thing, and yet this time around Jess and I successfully managed to make a very pleasant vanilla sponge with buttercream icing.
As we head to bed tonight, we look forward to tomorrow. At 10am, we leave the INOS office to travel to Chagar Hutang, Redang Island, to volunteer overnight at the sea turtle research centre, sleeping on the beach and waiting for the turtles coming up onto land to essentially headbutt us to wake us up, before we set to work collecting all of the data that we can regarding their breeding habits, and monitoring the state of the incubating nests. From there, we have a night in, before a week on the research vessel, surveying for marine mammals.
It’s been a wonderful weekend of time off for ourselves – I feel relaxed and settled and ready to get back to work. And what work it’s going to be!