Sunday, July 31, 2011

Malaysia album

Here's a recap of all our Malaysia activities. Click on the photos to follow through to a detailed post.




3-D rainforest mural

leaf stamping

proboscis monkey puppet

rhinoceros hornbill paper craft

Peranakan beaded slippers
kid-friendly batik

Find us on Goodreads for book reviews.

picture books

grown-up books


pandan chiffon cupcakes


orchid garden



dikir barat




donation to Orangutan Foundation International


Malaysia reflections

It's hard to believe that I started off the month worrying if we'd have enough resources to fill up our month with activities. The last few days have been a mad dash to try to cram in as many ideas as possible before we move on to the next country, with a few that didn't quite get done.

It didn't hurt that we had a fantastic time visiting Malaysia. This was our fourth trip there as a family. We've been to Malacca, Langkawi, Palau Pangkor, and now Kuching in Borneo. Each trip has revealed a different side of the country, and each time we've left impressed by the genuine friendliness that we've received. It's a place that I knew very little about before moving to it's southern neighbor and I probably would not have ventured there if it hadn't been so accessible. But I'm so thankful that we have had the opportunity!

I'm not sure how much The Whirl Girl made the connection between "the Malaysia project" and "the Malaysia trip" but I think it must have sunk in there somewhere. I found it hard to integrate the project into the trip while we were traveling because it was just plain hard enough to be traveling with a 3 1/2-year-old. Free time was spent planning activities, making sure we were all fed enough, and resting. And we were cramming enough into one day without trying to add any crafts or other projects. But I found that making some of the connections after we returned - proboscis monkey puppet, orangutan donation - helped bring the project and the trip together. Plus part of the joy of travel is just taking it all in as it comes, and processing it later. No different for a little one than us bigger ones. Something to remember for future travels.

Also, this month I've been reading about other families who are traveling. Some blogs I've been following, in case you want a taste, are Almost Fearless, Four Dots on the Map, and Our Travel Lifestyle. I love that they share the highs and the lows, and the frustrations and the fantastics, of being on the road with kids. Be careful - they may just inspire you to drop everything and hit the road!

We seem to be settling into a Whirls and Twirls groove. The Whirl Girl understood that it was time to trade in the Malaysia books for the next set, as we travel to...


Malaysia crafts: Batik for Kids

I love all kinds of artisan-y textiles. And of batiks are one of my favorites. So naturally I was excited to have to buy some for Whirls and Twirls projects.

the two on the left are block-printed and the two on the right are batik

Batik is made using hot wax to outline the design and then dyed and hot waxed in layers until the end result of a beautiful mix of colors and designs is achieved. National Geographic has an interesting article about the craft in Malaysia.

Hot wax and a 3-year-old didn't seem like a very good combination, so we followed the directions from That Artist Woman and First Palette for a kid-friendly batik project.

We took inspiration from one of our books this month, My Mother's Garden by Malaysian author and illustrator Emila Yusof. This sweet story has beautiful illustrations of a Malaysian garden.

The Whirl Girl flipped through the pages and chose what drawings she wanted to put on her batik pillowcase - butterflies, flowers, leaves, trees, a little girl, sunshine, rain, clouds, and dragonflies.

  • acrylic or fabric paint
  • paint brushes
  • pencil
  • washable glue (the blogs recommended Elmers Washable Blue Glue, but we couldn't find that here so I used the white Crayola Washable Glue that I could find)
  • a piece (or multiple pieces) of white or light-colored cloth (I used an old white pillowcase that is now a bright, colorful pillowcase)

Step One: Draw a design in pencil. The Whirl Girl drew some more abstract designs and I did some some more literal interpretations of garden drawings.

Step Two: Trace the designs with the glue. This definitely required some adult assistance. The Whirl Girl moved it while I squeezed.

Step Three: Let it dry. This is the hardest step, because it has to dry for hours. And that's means lots of "is it dry yet?"

Step Four: Get your paint ready. Add water to the acrylic paint so that it isn't too thick. No exact combination, but it should spread around easily.
Step Five: Paint!

Step Six: Let the paint dry. We did this waiting overnight. It was done when we woke up.

Step Seven: Soak the fabric in hot water for 10-15 minutes and then rub off the glue.

Step Eight: Dry it and you're done!

Definitely a lengthy process but worth the end result! A new pillowcase for The Whirl Girl.

Malaysia language: jalan jalan

Our Malay word for the month is "jalan jalan."

We realized quickly that The Whirl Girl wasn't getting hooked on "Salamat Datang" (welcome, hello in Malay) as she was on the Kenyan "jambo."

So we opted instead for jalan-jalan, which means roughly a stroll or a wander around. It's a perfect word for a traveler. We jalan-jalan-ed around Borneo, seeing sights as we went, and around a neighborhood in Singapore, walking slowly and looking into shop windows. For her Sunday activity, The Whirl Girl has requested a jalan-jalan to the playground.

Malaysia Music: Dikir Barat

One of our friends here told us about a type of Malaysian music called dikir barat. I was hoping that we might be able to find a performance in Singapore, but we had to settle for this You Tube video. It's an especially entertaining form of music that is performed by groups. There is a leader who sings and then is followed by the chorus of people. There are barat competitions, where two different groups share the stage. Some are even televised across Malaysia.

photo from, where there are also videos and music

There's lots of hand-clapping and energy, which I thought The Whirl Girl would enjoy. We watched the YouTube video together and then practiced doing "lap-clap-lap-clap" so we could join in with the chorus. Then we watched the video again together and tried our best to keep up, dancing along with it.

For other kinds of Malaysian music, there is the Rough Guide to the Music of Malaysia and on Amazon, you can download individual songs (but not if you live outside of the US - boo!). We enjoyed to the samples (play all) a couple of times while we were cooking our Pandan Chiffon Cupcakes.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Malaysia field trips: Borneo

I know the whole idea of the blog is to "travel" without really traveling, but this month we were lucky enough to actually visit the place we were focusing on. We took a family trip to Malaysian Borneo. It was amazing.

For those of you who live in the neighborhood and are looking for a great place to travel with kids, I would highly recommend it.

For those of you who can't make it this far and want a taste, there is a new IMAX movie out - Born to be Wild - about the orangutans of (Indonesian) Borneo and the elephants of Kenya. We are waiting for it to come to Singapore, but it looks like it's out in theaters across the US. It features the primatologist whose memoir I read this month. Also, we've been watching Expedition Borneo on TV here, which shows a window into the natural world in Borneo. One caveat: watching this before we went totally freaked my husband and I out. The scorpions! The snakes! Our version of Borneo was definitely jungle lite. But this show offers an appreciation of the amazing inhabitants of the island.

I had ideas about ways to supplement The Whirl Girl's travel experience, but in the end the day-to-day, hour-to-hour planning of traveling with a 3 1/2-year old took over any major plans. It was enough to keep her fed, rested, and mostly entertained for 6 days. So we tried to explain what we were seeing as we went around and let her experience Malaysia for herself.

Some highlights from the perspective of The Whirl Girl:

dance performances at the Sarawak Cultural Village, a living museum about the different ethnic groups native to Borneo

watching traditional textile weavers at the Sarawak Cultural Village

taking a boat ride to Bako National Park

climbing up and over tree roots, rocks, ladders and bridges on a jungle trail in Bako National Park

spotting wildlife in the park, including a proboscis monkey...

...wild pigs...

...crabs with one big pincher...

...and butterflies.

Discovering a beautiful beach at the end of the trail

Playing with seashells on the beach

Staying in a treehouse

seeing semi-wild orangutans at the Semenggoh Rehabilitation Centre

walking through a longhouse, the traditional form of housing for Borneo's native ethnic groups

snorkeling in the South China Sea (ie swimming in shallow water with her goggles, finding rocks, shells and hermit crabs)

finding dragon sculptures on the Chinese temples in Kuching

and even better, finding live turtles inside the temple

going to the Weekend Night Market and eating Apam Balik, a crepe-like treat stuffed with peanuts
I wish I could say that she enjoyed some of the tasty foods we found - Sarawak laksa, black pepper kway teow, and an amazing seafood dinner - but those didn't quite make her highlight list. Thankfully there's lots of ice cream to be found, even in Borneo.

Malaysia donation: Orangutan Foundation International

After reading books about orangutans, and then seeing them in the (semi) wild in Borneo, we were inspired to make our donation this month to an organization that helps orangutans and their habitat.

This was a cause The Whirl Girl could easily understand, especially since she saw how the "uncles" gave food to the orangutans at the Semenggoh Rehabilitation Centre that we visited near Kuching, Malaysia.

The organization that we selected is Orangutan Foundation International. It was founded by Birute Galdikas, a primatologist who moved to Borneo 40 years ago to study orangutans and has been there ever since. For my grown-up book this month, I read her memoir and found her work incredibly inspiring. Just as with our Kenya donation, I liked the idea of giving to an impressive woman that I had just learned a good deal about. Though - full disclosure - her work (and the book) is on the Indonesian side of Borneo, not the Malaysian side. But orangutans don't know the meaning of the national borders on their Bornean home, right?

As a bonus, Orangutan Foundation International offers the opportunity to "foster an orangutan." Basically, with your donation, you can choose an orangutan to support and then are given bio information and a certificate as a thanks. I thought this was a good way to make the idea of a donation more accessible to The Whirl Girl.

So she made a card to send to OFI, or as she said, "the people who take care of orangutans." I printed out a coloring page of orangutans for her to color, as her baby stuffed orangutan looked on (at her insistence).

Then, she "wrote" a note on the inside (and I deciphered it into English script on the opposite side).

And we packaged it up and sent it in the mail to OFI. Looking forward to getting something back about Omry, the baby orangutan that she picked from the website because he was described as the silly one.