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Borneo~ October 2015

Sixteen years ago, living in Phoenix with our precious baby girl, Bill and I became hooked on a new reality T.V. show called Survivor. It was highly publisized in Phoenix because host, Jeff Probsts’ parents lived in Scottsdale at the time. This would be the first time I’d hear of the exoctic island of Pulau Tiga in Borneo, Malaysia. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that 16 years later I would be visiting the island of Borneo, with my three teenagers, hubby, and sister.

Now, if you are wondering if we made it to the small island of Pulau Tiga, the answer is no. We looked into it and the island itself is not really known for much except that Survivor was filmed there. So, we opted to take a side excursion to Sandakan and make our way to one of the world’s richest ecosystems on the lower Kinabatongan River.

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Kids enjoying the scenery as we drove to the Gomantong Cave.

On the way to the Bilit Rainforest Lodge, was the Gomantong Cave. This cave was unlike any other cave I’d ever been to, and I’ve been to quite a few. I had done zero research on this cave as our main focus was on the wildlife we were going to see along the river. Luckily, our guide was quite informative about the cave on our two hour journey from Sandakan airport to the cave. Let me start with a little background on the unique item that is found in this cave.

Living in Asia, I have been exposed to a very expensive and rare treat that the Chinese enjoy called bird nests. Edible bird’s nest, made from the hardened saliva of cave-dwelling swiftlets, is one of the most expensive animal products consumed by humans, sometimes referred to as ‘the caviar of the East’. Yum. Ok, I can totally handle seeing cute little birds in this cave, but wait… there’s more. He goes on to tell us that it will stink due to the ammonia smell from the bat guano, but we will get used to it after a few minutes. He then suggests that if we don’t care for cockroaches that he has bug spray if we need it. Since I was little, I’ve been terrified of cockroaches. A few tramatic experiences as a child/teenager has them right up there with spiders as scary things my husband has to deal with. Did I mention that we were there right before Halloween? I think that this whole cave experience qualifies as my scariest haunted house visit EVER!!!!Ok, so we get to the cave, it stinks really bad like he said. There is a nice wooden platform to walk on with a rail that takes us through the cave. It’s very dark. He points out some nests that are above our heads, ohhh and ahhhh. As we get farther into the cave we notice lots of movement…everywhere. Again, it’s pretty dark in there. The cave wall, the floor, the middle of the cave floor, the railing, it was all moving. As we look down at the wood platform, it is covered in guano and roaches. We found ourselves moving closer to the rail to try and tiptoe around the nasty critters until we noticed the rail was also covered in roaches!!!! OMG! I can’t escape! Can’t go next to the cave wall, yep, covered in creepy crawly roaches! Our guide was hilarious trying to point out the cool roaches (a rare white one that his dad had in his roach aquarium) as we are literally running and stomping (to scare away the little bastards) trying to escape this guano laced, roach filled hell! “But wait! Let me show you something really cool”, he yells as we are trying to retreat. Posted the video of “something really cool” for your viewing pleasure. We did manage to leave the cave without incident, except for some bat guano dropping on Alicia’s helmet. I have to admit that one of our coolest moments in Borneo happened as we were leaving the cave area. It was a short walk through the forest to where the van was parked and we were lucky enough to witness two Orang Utan in a tree right next to us. Unbelievable! Our guide mentioned that we should buy a lottery ticket, because a sighting like this never happens. This realization of how ‘in the jungle” we were, was pretty amazing and the ultimate reason why we wanted to come here to this beautiful country.

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The entrance to the cave.

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The entrance

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Walking in…

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Look closely and you can see the roaches on the bamboo.

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Our guide talking about the nests.

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Escaping to the light!

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The “albino” roach

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We are now onto our final destination another 30 minutes away to the lodge. We arrived in the afternoon, so we were able to head out on the evening boat to look for many different species of monkeys, birds, maybe the elusive pigmy elephant, etc.

I’ve put on a few of my favorite photos of the 3 different boat rides we took over the two days. The lodge itself was a bit rustic, but comfortable. The biggest nuisance was the constant banging on the roof by the wild monkeys in the middle of the night. Was quite alarming! The first night we were there I somehow managed to get my pinky toe stuck under the door as I was shutting it. Pretty sure I broke it. Totally sucked, because I was really excited to do the jungle hike instead of the boat ride to spot more wildlife.

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Not happy with us taking her picture.

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The “red chile”

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The sun was setting while this proboscis  monkey crossed overhead.

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Our guide said that they often spot the “red chili” before the rest of the monkey!

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Hiding and eating!

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Silver leaf monkey

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Now we are leaving the Kinabatonga River and are headed to Turtle Island via a boat from Sandakan. We stopped at the local market near the dock before heading over.

This is a one night adventure to see turtle eggs being laid, and then later baby turtles being released. Again, modest accomodations with running water, shower, toilet, and food. Our guide was back with us for this adventure to Turtle Island and he was giddy with excitement. We had the afternoon to explore the island and snorkle. Emily managed to brush up against something snorkling and had a skin reaction, nothing a little rubbing alcohol couldn’t fix. Finally, it was dinner time and the long wait for the turtles to come onto the beach began. They had a nice little museum/education room on the sea turtles, which we enjoyed walking through. Each guide gave their group the run down on the rules and how the night was going to go. We had to keep our voices down and vibrations to a minimum, (stay in one area only so the turtles wouldn’t get spooked), NO lights or flashes on cameras. We were told that once the signal was given to quickly follow the turtle guide to where the turtle was laying her eggs on the beach. The first one happened quite soon after we ate, but one of the guests kept using the flash on her camera and it totally stopped the process. The turtle went back to sea and we left deflated and pretty angry and annoyed with this lady. The second one came about an hour and a half later. We excitedly ran down the beach to witness this amazing sight. She did not dissappoint. I still can’t believe they pick up these eggs and transfer them right away.

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Cute turtle towel🙂

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Emily snorkeling rash.

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Snorkeling!

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Monitor Lizard!

 

 

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Waiting for the call to see the momma turtle!

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Laying eggs!

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Head view

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She’s a repeat costumer!  According to her tag she laid eggs here once before.

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eggs

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Collected eggs

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Time to bury

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Our buried eggs

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Hatched turtles that we let go that night.

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Turtle egg grounds (female area, no shade)

After they collected all the eggs we went to the area where they bury them in the sand. The sex of the turtle is determined by the temperature of the sand and our batch was buried in the female area. Go GIRLS J! Now it’s time to release these adorable little turtles. Unfortunately, statistics show that maybe 2 or 3 will actually make it out of the 60 we released.

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It’s hard

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to say

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goodbye…

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We came, we saw, and we were amazed by the wildlife in Borneo. Kota Kinabalu was a short flight from Sandakan where we finished off our vacation with a couple of days at the Shangri-La. Did some more snorkling, relaxing, and shopping.

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Coocoo for Coconuts, not Haze!

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We had a lovely 4 day weekend (Hari Raya Haji holiday) in Bintan, Indonesia. It was so nice to escape the horrible haze that has plagued Singapore for the last few weeks. These wicked fumes are due to the illegal burning/clearing of palm oil fields in Sumatra. Wikipedia haze The hazardous smoke then blows over Singapore and coats it in a blanket of white smog. The picture that I am posting is in the Very Unhealthy range at PSI level 213. To put it in perspective, school activities outdoors are canceled at 150. While Robert’s soccer association cancels practice over 101. School gets cancelled altogether if it reaches 300, which it did last Friday while we were in Bintan.

So our little getaway was just what we needed! I’ve been on this recent fresh coconut water kick ever since I found out the health benefits after a workout. Much better than Gatorade, 100 Plus, etc. Since fresh coconuts are readily available in our grocery stores, it’s a no brainer! While in Bintan, we were able to watch a guy climb up the coconut tree (he’s actually in the picture of the tree), cut down the coconuts, and slice it open for our enjoyment. So, I know I like coconut water, but what was with the spoon they gave with the coconut? Well, I’ve seen all the seasons of Survivor and never have I seen them use a spoon. It was very easy to scrape the inside of the coconut to get a clear thin gelatinous scoop of coconut. It tasted about as good as it looked…bland. Well, I will still drink the water, but am not a fan of the gelatinous pulp.

Did I mention that we are so excited for our next visitors! Haha…don’t let the haze scare you away! Hoping this clears out within the next few weeks. Ugh.
Below are a few trip pictures!

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22 Legs

We escaped the summer without one single airline catastrophe!  I think that is pretty darn good considering we flew twenty two, yes, TWENTY TWO legs on United Airlines this summer.  The Denver airport was becoming our home away from home.  Even before we began our summer adventure, Bill and I were already discussing the need for a “home base” next year, We thank all our family for being so giving of their homes and putting up with us.  It’s was a logistical nightmare trying to bring luggage across the country for each two week visit.  Do we leave the huge suitcase with Bill in Phoenix? Will Emily need two suitcases, one for rowing camp and one for the college tour? Will Kathy need an extra for all the crap she bought to bring back?  All would be YES!!!!    I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to slip right back into the normalcy of american living.  Being with family, reuniting with old friends, and meeting nieces and nephews for the first time, were the much needed antidote for my longing to be home.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel once we landed back in Singapore.  I’m happy to report that it was pretty seamless.  What a difference a year makes.  Last year I was gagging from the smells of the hawker center and this year I know exactly what to order.  I’m still surprised daily by people and situations here in Singapore, but now am gaining more of an understanding as to why.  The kids have gotten back into their routines and friend groups which makes us all happy.  Bill is traveling a bit less this year. YAY!  As I write this he is heading to Dubai for the week, but at least its not the US.

We hope everyone is doing well and remember you are always welcome to come visit us here, one degree north!

Kathy

Family picture taken in Branson, Missouri

Family picture taken in Branson, Missouri

Apology to my daughter

It has recently come to my attention, that I have utterly embarrassed my teenage daughter and her friends with my last post.  “Mom, how could you call yourselves the “Fab Five”, that is so “clique”ish and snobby!”. “That totally reminded me of the Mean Girls movie”.  And so on…

Dear Emily,

I’ve been a part of many amazing groups of ladies in my lifetime, that all in some way have made me the person I am today.  A few being, Tau Beta Sigma, numerous bunko groups, Lakewood PTA, Altadena PTO, and so on.  All with some sort of title to describe it.  So, when thinking about describing my current group of friends, I went with the most obvious…Fabulous.

So, in order to stop any further emotional embarrassment to you and your friends, I’ve updated the name of our group.  We will now be known as, “The Flab Four and counting”.  I’m hoping that this is more welcoming, non judgemental, and inclusive. Yes, I’m sorry, but they must have some “flab” somewhere on their body (arm flab, back flab, chin flab, etc.)  to be a part of our inclusive circle.  If they do NOT have “flab”, they can just hang out with us a few times and that will change.  We are currently working on a secret flab shake,  I mean hand shake.  All flab will be welcomed here.

You can occasionally catch the “Flab Four” hanging out with our cohorts, “The Gazelles”.  Yes kids, that’s what your dad’s call their little group…go figure that one out!

I hope that this title is more acceptable.  Please forgive us for feeling good about our friendships here in a new country, while missing our traveling husbands, and keeping up with you nimrods.

Love you,

Your Flab Mom

The Real “Expat” Wives of Singapore

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And so it begins…the story of our Expat friendship that started on Facebook.  Michelle and I have added to our little group with the addition of Frances (the Irish Lassie), Lisa (Southern Belle), and Kristin (California Girl)  For whatever reason, our paths have crossed and I couldn’t be more grateful.  We are the Fab Five!

What is the definition of an “Expat Wife” anyway?  There is not an official definition that I could find, but here is my personal simplified definition.  Expat Wife – A woman left to figure out a new country because her spouse is traveling for work.  For some, this would be the ultimate new adventure.  For others, sadly the final straw in an already faltering marriage. Luckily, none of us are in the latter category.

Our friendships developed quickly.  We bonded instantly over husbands travel schedules, kids adjusting to a new, more rigorous school, the struggles of getting a bank account, weighing the pros and cons of getting a helper, the list goes on.  When you have no family or husbands around, these ladies become your lifeline.

Now, we don’t have all the “drama” of a Real Housewives tv show, but we definitely have stories to tell and some to cherish forever.  The year has gone by quickly with it’s ups and downs, but we’ve done it together.  And now it ends, almost as quickly as it began as one of our Fab Five leaves us in June.  I can’t quite put my finger on why this makes me so sad.  We all have the common bond of arriving at the same time, struggling together, and most of all lifting each others spirits.  These coveted positions in our Fab Five can never be replicated or replaced.

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I’ve since revised my definition of an Expat Wife to –  A special woman that endures with a smile, finds a pack, and rolls with the changes.

As I look ahead, I’m excited of who will be put in our path as our journey continues.
Cheers to Kristin! You’ll be missed my friend.

Cambodia, lots to love

This blog post is basically pictures from our trip to Cambodia. Too many pictures to post on Facebook.

Angkor Wat Temple – Day 1

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Monkeys greeted us at the back entrance.

Monkeys greeted us at the back entrance.

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Kids enjoyed being able to explore the ruins.

Kids enjoyed being able to explore the ruins.

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The story of the Churning of the Sea of Milk.

The story of the Churning of the Sea of Milk.

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Most heads were stolen.

Most heads were stolen.

My parents have an actual rubbing of one of these ladies.

My parents have an actual rubbing of one of these ladies.

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A couple taking wedding photos.

A couple taking wedding photos.

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We were told this was a rare opportunity to witness the cutting of the hair.

We were told this was a rare opportunity to witness the cutting of the hair.

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The Phare Circus and Pub street
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Highlight of our trip, JWOC (Journeys Within Our Community) -Day 2

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Bayon Temple (Smiling Buddahs) and Ta Prohm (Lara Croft Tomb Raider) Day 2 Continued

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4 Wheelin’ by the rice fields.

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Going out to the floating village. Very interesting to see such a different way of living. Not ideal for most.

On our way to the floating village

On our way to the floating village

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Fishing

Fishing

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School

School

Catholic Church

Catholic Church

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Lotus Fields

Lotus Fields

Jungle Hike to the Waterfall – Day 4
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This hole in the rock was like a clown car. It had room for all of us!

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This is a cashew nut.

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Bill and Bobby swimming in our hotel pool.

Bill and Bobby swimming in our hotel pool.

Emily received flowers from the hotel because she wasn't feeling well.

Emily received flowers from the hotel because she wasn’t feeling well.

The rules before heading inside he temples :)

The rules before heading inside the temples🙂 #7 was interesting…

We had a wonderful Cambodian adventure! We would highly recommend a visit if you are in the area.
We are looking forward to coming to the states in June!!!!

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Thanksgiving in Bali

It’s after midnight. Standing between the cars at an intersection she looks to be around 11 yrs old. Peering sullenly into the van window right at Emily, the image is still fresh on my mind. She has a baby strapped around her. Is it her baby? A brother or sister? Not really what I was expecting upon our arrival in Bali.

Before coming to Bali I did a lot of research on places to stay and got a contact for a tour guide. With the size of our family it looked like a villa was our best option. Most resorts only allow up to 4 persons, which meant an additional room. This added up to the price of a villa. No brainer! Our villa had a private pool, chef to come prepare breakfast every morning, and a spa around the corner. The only downside was that it was not on the beach.

I had pre arranged a two-hour massage for a mere $27! How can you pass that up? So, Bill and I enjoyed a fabulous couples massage to begin our Bali vacation. The kids slept in and took a dip in the pool after exploring the villa. Our first night was not the best as our villa was right off the very noisy main road. We mentioned this to the front desk and they moved us to an even better villa within the compound. Score!

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That afternoon we met our friendly tour guide, Wayan Ari. My friend, Laura was so taken with him and his family she sent me with gifts in tow. This man ALWAYS had this huge smile on his face. He asked us if we like birds? We all snickered, and replied, YES! Fun Fact: Bill hates birds, especially ones that sit on your head! So, off we went to the Bali Bird Park. We loved this place! As soon as we walk in they are putting huge parrots on us for pictures! Bill even braved a picture or two. Emily was getting two beautiful toucans put on her shoulders when one decided to stick his long beak down her shirt! Man, if I had only had the camera ready for that one!

Wayan Ari and adorable children.

Wayan Ari and adorable children.

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Temples, temples, everywhere!
One of my favorite temples was Tanah Lot (which means small island floating on the sea). It’s situated on a beach with black sand, something I’d never seen before. We stayed to watch the infamous sunset over Tanah Lot and it did not disappoint.

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Tirta Empul Temple was probably the most entertaining temple we visited. The unstoppable water is believed to cure any diseases. While we were visiting I observed a grandfather with his granddaughter. She suddenly noticed a very large fish swimming near her and started hysterically crying and clawing her way up her grandfather. I couldn’t help but giggle.

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We watched “The Barong and Kris Dance”, a play that represents the fight between good and evil spirit. It had five acts and by the second act the kids (and us too) were ready to go. The costumes and makeup were by far the best thing about this play.

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MONKEY FOREST in Ubud!!!
Probably our most fun and SCARY stop. It was on the Amazing Race, so of course I wanted to stop here. When we entered the park there was a lady selling bananas to feed the monkeys. Who wouldn’t want to feed these adorable furry monkeys, right? Being the typical tourist we had to do this. We held the banana up and then walked towards a monkey. The monkey then crawls up you to get the banana and proceeds to sit on your shoulder while eating. We got some great photos of the kids with these cute guys. I had a more intimate time with my little furry friend. He scarfed down his banana, burped a few times, rubbed banana in my hair, proceeded to give me a new hairdo, and caressed my face. By the time the assault was finished my family was crying from laughter.

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We also stopped at a tea/coffee plantation, ate lunch with a view of a volcano, went snorkeling at the blue lagoon, shopped, our guide got taken to the police station, rode elephants, fed tigers, celebrated Thanksgiving, and enjoyed multiple massages. Next time we might take it easy at a beach resort…nah.

Volcano

Volcano

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Wayan coming out of the police station with a smile on his face :)

Wayan coming out of the police station with a smile on his face🙂

Tasting "CATPOOCHINO" The coffee plantation had special beans digested by Luwak.

Tasting “CATPOOCHINO”
The coffee plantation had special beans digested by Luwak.

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Vodka bottles filled with...petrol!

Vodka bottles filled with…petrol!

Family on a scooter.  The mom is hiding behind the baby.

Family on a scooter. The mom is hiding behind the baby.

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My heart still breaks for that little girl who was begging at the intersection the night we arrived. It’s funny what images your mind won’t let you forget.