Monday, December 25, 2006


23rd December - 4th January

Recommended by a fellow traveller as a quiet and historic town in Malaysia, we boarded a long-day bus to Malacca and arrived on a Friday evening. Also much recommended (and we thank Dan from the bottom of our hearts) was the Sama-Sama guesthouse where owners Soon and Gabby were the most gracious of hosts.

The 6-day floods had finally moved on and the weekend markets opened their doors and stalls to the Christmas shopping masses that shuffled at a painfully long pace down Jonker Walk, known as the antique street in Malacca's Chinatown.

Here is a view of Jonker Walk from the historic Cheng Ho Museum, which outlines Chinese explorations of Africa, Latin America, California and South East Asia years before Columbus was even born.

The next day Tom spotted a Morris Minor parked on Jonker Walk. What a sighting!

Malacca's personality begins with the holiday inspired rickshaws and their kooky drivers. Many are decorated with fancy plastic flowers, religious icons and are mostly connected to a boom-box with speakers and CD players so the customers can enjoy quality booming 80's techno music. It's all too kitsch.A famous Portugees Settlement, dating back to the 1500's, hosts a massive Christmas celebration with a mass, carols and loads of Portugese food stalls. In the evening, we took a town bus and got off where the crowds began to appear. Tom was a bit bored during the mass but the carols were wonderful, sung by a school chorus. As soon as the ceremony ended, out came the canned snow (soap suds in a spray can) and silly string and before we knew it (as the foreign novelty) we were attacked by the giggling youth wherever we went.

Tom got especially teased by groups of young girls and didn't really stand a chance to defend himself. Since we usually spend Christmas in Leeds with the Lyons', this year we decided to not try and imitate a home Christmas and instead opted for a Nyonyan (Chinese and Malay mixed cuisine) meal at a nearby restaurant.

Malacca has many beautiful temples, varying from Chinese Buddhist and Taoist...

to Indian temples, like the famous Sri Mahamariaman Hindu Temple with its fancy big-bellied deities...
...and the Kampung Kling Mosque, which is one of the oldest mosques in Malaysia. Instead of a conventional dome, it has a three-tiered roof rising like a pyramid and is just one of many examples of the mixture of East-West architectural influence.

Here Doggo, the resident guesthouse pooch joins the call to prayer with some tuneful howling..

Malacca also sits on a quiet river and occasional long-tail boats whizz through.

New Years was also spent in Malacca since this wonderful little town easily kept our cultural interests, our appetites and our thirsts satisfied. Here Zhenia and Christine from Zurich get started on the Thai whisky, though Christine will fiercely deny the rumor.

From left to right, Marco of Germany(via Indonesia), Sean of Portsmouth and Dan of Toronto. The party came out onto the streets as a few fireworks shot into the sky on the stroke of midnight.
The two of us, our first pic of 2007.

Marco and Zhenia enjoy a giggle.

A picture of the New Year's gang. If you're concerned, Tom isn't smoking but merely posing for his new year's resolution: to look tough and mean.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Jungles of Cameron Highlands

21st December - 22nd December

2,000 meters above sea level in central peninsular Malaysia sit the Cameron Highlands
. We decided to take a break in the high mountains for a couple of days before continuing south for Christmas.

The first day pissed it down but the second proved to be a bit more welcoming so we heading out for a jungle walk...but first we found an enormous scorpion on the sidewalk; this bad boy was a good 7 inches long.

Tally, Ho! Come on George! Come on Timmy, lets go rescue Anne from the wicked Skunk Ape of jungle mountain!

Deeper in the jungle, the sunlight began to shine though the canopy creating a beautiful effect with the mist.

A birds nest fern hangs enormously at the top of the trees and is a common sight in the tropics.

The mountain paths were difficult, to say the least, especially after a week of rain. We slipped in the mud several times and had to almost get on all fours to get under some of the fallen trees. At times we wondered whether it was wise wondering off without a guide and only a rudimentary map.

That was until we reached the top and found ourselves surrounded by school kids from Kuala Lumpur on camp for the Christmas holiday.

After an hour we finally made it back down, here Zhenia poses next to a stream.

While asking for directions back to town Tom got stuck discussing the merits of Arsenal and Thierry Henry with a local hiker.

Georgetown or Pulau Penang

17th December - 20th December

Our first stop in Malaysia was the island of Penang
, which literally translates from Malay as "Betel Nut Island". Given to the British by Sultan Kedah in 1771 in a deal for protection from foreign invaders, Georgetown was founded by Sir Francis Light and became a thriving trade port for the East India Company. The Chinese and Indians came as merchants and labor workers and never left. Now the island's colonial days are over and the world praises it for it's ethnic and religious diversity and it's absolutely superb cuisine. Infact, it is quite common to run into a Hindu temple, a Chinese Temple, a Mosque and a Church on the same block. Similarly, the ethnic groups have also build gastronomical bridges with cuisines of South India, China, and Malay.

Here's Tom with a delicious mug of massala tea, enjoyed by everybody on the streets...

...while Zhenia digs into her vegetarian set consisting of popadom, roti canai, lentil dall, chutney, alou gobi (something similar anyway) and a big heap of rice - all for one US dollar.

A close up of ABC (Air Batu Campur), a Malay desert consisting of crushed ice flavoured with various syrups, sweet corn and red beans. Zhenia, of course, demolished this in no time and refused to let me publish the evidence.

At a fruit market Tom holds up a Jack fruit, which smells mildly better than its sewer-smelling cousin, the Durian fruit.

A view of our street in Chinatown. The streets are usually quiet and look lost or asleep in some old time.

Once an old colonial building this music shop in Little India counts Jesus and Ganesh as it's sponsors.

We spent the rainy days sitting on the porch of our guesthouse - here I am looking very pleased with my new shirt I found in a Thai thrift shop for pennies.

On one of the warmer days we decided to get out of the heat and spend the hottest part of the afternoon in the Indian cinema watching the latest Bollywood box office hit. No subtitles but who needed them? Lots of singing, dancing and the wafer thin melodramatic plot was easy enough to follow. A sensational riot of funabration.....ness...

Lastly, at Batu Ferrenghi, a beach coast on the island, we spotted two 4-ft Monitor lizards sunbathing on the rocks.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Anyone who has been to Thailand for more than a month has been to and fro Bangkok too many times to count on one hand. This entry consists solely of pictures of this great city, one of many faces, ironies, humor and let's not forget, smiles.

Pat waves at entering Humphaluong Train Station, our favorite station in the world.

The city is filled with fast-flying mopeds, bulletins, smells of great variety and little nooks that make it a great place to stay.

A view from a quiet part of town, right near banks of the Thewet Ferry.

Chillies drying in the day market.

Wat Benchamabophit (the Marble Temple) on Sri Ayuttaya Road.

You can buy fish food on the Thewet Pier and feed the hungry mongers, while the pigeons look on hungrily.

The Leaning Buddha (reaching nirvana) at Wat Pho, Thailand's largest and oldest temple.

At a night market kids try to catch fish through a rice paper sieve and get a prize.

Since this is our last entry in Thailand as we are off to Malaysia in a few days for some new adventures, we would like to thank everyone who has been a part (directly and indirectly) of these last two wonderful months. Names not be mentioned, you know who you are. Chok-dee-kaa!!

Happy Birthday, Mama Raia!!!

4th December

Happy Birthday, mama!!! What a special day for you and so many people around you. For those that cannot be near you to kiss you and hug you, here's a little collage I put together for your birthday enjoyment.

Remember when Sasha and I looked like this?

And Sasha always seemed to be hungry, either munching on something crunchy or waiting sadly for a potato to boil.

You and papa had just gotten married and everything seemed so new and exciting.

And we always loved the way papa looked at you and wanted that same loving glance with our own men.
And all the pictures looked like this, full of memories and stories; always so many stories.

Meeting old friends included tables of food and never feeling too tired at the end of the night.
Remember the first few months in America? Sasha and I were always playing some game, making a funny face at papa's camera lens. Everything was a celebration; everything seemed to be happening for the first time.

Here's a toast to you, in Russian and in English, across the globe in Thailand, Ukraine, Russia, and America. For your health and happiness, 12 hours ahead (for me) and with smiling faces around you right now, eating home food and drinking a roomka of vodka with a zakuska. But before we drink...

Copy the following link into your browser, press PLAY and enjoy your surprise....

I love you, mama and happy birthday from the both of us.

Zhenia and Tom