Leaving on a Jet Plane

All packed up and ready to go.

All packed up and ready to go.

So here it is. Our last day of travelling. Our last day of squashing up into a single hotel room. Our last day of eating every meal in public. Our last day of spending every waking moment in each other’s company.

Early tomorrow morning, we get a tuk-tuk or taxi to the airport and spend pretty much the whole day on planes (with an exciting 4 hour stopover in Oman to relieve the monotony), eventually piling out at Heathrow after 16 hours of travel. Then it’s just one more bus journey up to Leeds (a mere 4 hours and with a guaranteed seat each instead of plastic chairs in the aisle – luxury!) and we’ll be home.

We’re cutting it fine. School starts just four days after we get home. We have no food in the cupboards. We have no bedding. We threw out our old sofas before we left so there’s nothing except kitchen chairs to sit on. And what things we do have are all boxed and stacked ten-feet high in the garage. It’s going to be a busy few days.

But I think it will also be exciting, rediscovering all our possessions and seeing why they all seemed so important that we had to carefully store them away all year. To be honest, I imagine quite a lot of it might be going straight to the tip rather than back into our house. When we’ve lived out of two backpacks (plus the girls’ small ones) for a year, it’s hard to imagine needing a ten-foot garage stack of stuff.

Actually, when I wrote that we have no food, it wasn’t strictly true. We all sat around our laptop by the pool yesterday, salivating as we put together the most enormous online Asda delivery ever. Some of it is essentials. Some of it. But mostly it’s just cheese. The sheer amount of choice was just too much to resist, and it was just so incredibly easy. A few hundred clicks and before you know it, Asda’s shelves are empty and our fridge and cupboards are full. Wow! No need to haggle with tuk-tuk drivers to get there, dodge stray dogs on the street, jump over open sewers, struggle with indecipherable labels or mysterious vegetables nor any need to visit twenty shops to get twenty things. We’ve also bought all the girls school uniforms online, winter coats, recorders (!), a case of wine… come to think of it, maybe we have missed having stuff after all.

But possessions aside, I think our girls will be in for a culture shock when we return to the UK. Their memories of home are already fading and I really think the little differences will be a surprise to them: wearing coats or tights or shoes, everyone understanding them when they talk in public, not having to put on sun cream or mosquito repellant, having to spend time away from their Mummy and Daddy, sitting still in a classroom…

Backpacking as a family has sometimes been hard work and we’ve all felt growing pangs of homesickness over the last month or two but we’ve seen some amazing stuff, been to some awesome places, learnt things about different countries you could never pick up without going there, had a ton of fun and are closer as a family than we’ve ever been. I’m glad we spent all those years saving up but I’m also looking forward to getting back to “normal” life. Things that had started to feel mundane will be exciting. Choosing to go back to the familiar is a very different thing to being swept along by the daily grind.

And I also think the trip will anchor us. In time – such a big life change will always give us the perspective to say whether any event happened before or after we went travelling – but also in reality: it’s humbling to see with your own eyes how most of the World’s population lives. It’s a lot harder to complain about your life or feel stressed over small upsets when you’ve seen what others often have to deal with.

But going home is not until tomorrow. Today we go to the beach for the last time, and tonight we’re having a special meal to toast our trip – to celebrate our year in Asia, were going out to an Italian restaurant. Salute!

Keeping Cool in KL

I’ve dreamed of visiting KL since I read about it while studying for my A Level Economics (many years ago).  At the time, Malaysia was the fastest growing economy in the world, with the Petronas towers under construction, set to be the tallest buildings in the world, and a symbol of growing wealth, ambition and progress for the nation.

We’re here at last, having arrived at the new, modern railway station by night train.  At 6.30am we heard the guard shouting ‘KL Sentral!’ which we assumed was the termination of the train, so were taking our time changing out of pyjama’s and gathering up our things, when he came back to hurrry us along as the train was about to leave again!  So we kind of fell off the train in a pile of laundry and rucksacks, matted hair and sleepy children.

No matter, our guest house were very welcoming, even at that hour.  It was a little early to check in, but we were given tea, coffee & hot chocolate, a big comfy sofa, and space to store our luggage.  It’s a lovely little place called Sabahat.  We’re taking 2 of the 8 rooms here, and have our own kitchenette in a lovely seating area, a great escape from the hustle and bustle outside.

We headed out again and saw the Bird Park.  Actually, we didn’t go in (it’s very pricey – about MYR 250 for all of us – £50) but we ate in the Hornbill cafe, which has an outside seating area in the birdpark, so you can see it for free!  We saw loads of hornbills, and even had some birds coming to eat our scraps.  The Lakeside Park is beautiful, we also saw the Orchid section, and of course, the playground, which is huge.

The next day was all about the Petronas Towers.  We’d bought tickets in advance so saved hours avoiding the enormous queue, and were wizzing up in the ultra fast lift before 9am.  The visit was in 2 parts:  a stop at the skybridge at about 180m, and a stop at the observation deck at 370m.  It really was memorable, being in such an iconic building looking down at the city below.  The highlight for the girls was spotting a huge playground with a paddling pool that we’d been told was nearby, so you can guess what we spent the rest of the day doing!

KL is very different to the other capital cities we’ve visited.  It’s much more modern, you can buy anything here:  we’ve seen H&M, M&S (we bought earl grey tea and rich tea biscuits), a Harrods tea room, Tiffany’s and many other famous western retailers.  It’s much calmer than Bangkok, much cleaner than Kathmandu, and much hotter than both of them put together.  The most popular way of keeping cool seems to be ducking into the city-sized shopping complexes that make the White Rose Centre in Leeds look like a small backwater from yesteryear.  It’s very dangerous on the pocket, Fergus seems to have accidentally spent £400 on camera accessories without meaning to.  And I bought a dress or 2.  Oops!

There’s also much more access to the outside world.  The internet speed is brilliant, and there are international newspapers, as well as BBC news on in many outlets.  Malaysia is big in the news at the moment, as the search continues for MH370 continues, and it’s the Grand Prix in KL this weekend, sponsored by Petronas, of course.

Fused with these modern conveniences though is the melee of sounds, smells and sights that signify South East Asia.  The cooking pots on the street are still here (although looking slightly more securely balanced than elsewhere); the inevitable Chinatown & Little India districts; the sudden change from ‘delicious noodle soup’ smell to ‘overheated blocked drain’ as you inhale; the honking of horns and the weaving motorbikes through the traffic; the touts trying to entice you, the tourist, to come buy their wares; and the tiny hovels inhabited by the city’s poor rub shoulders with the designer outlets.  What sets KL apart for me though is the parks, they rival London in the feeling of city centre getaway, and I think would make KL a very liveable in city for anyone, whatever their wealth.