Archive | March, 2013

The beginning of our Malaysian journey

19 Mar

I love Malaysia. I love the blue bright skies and the luscious tropical plants. I love that almost everyone speaks English here, that it’s multicultural and welcoming of foreigners. I love that the supermarkets are full of things I know and love (except gem squash – is South Africa the only country that grows gems?) and the prices here finally make sense.

Here is an overview of our first 3 weeks in Malaysia:

Where we live

Our tiny (tiny!) town is called Bandar (Town) Springhill. It has one small supermarket which reminds me of a small beach town cafe: their shelves are dusty, their biscuits are stale from sitting on the self for too long, the fruit and meat section is swarmed with flies and they stock just about anything you might urgently need: plasters, gavscon, beach balls, padlocks etc. There is a slightly bigger and more expensive supermarket near the school but it doesn’t sell fresh produce. There are about 5 restaurants in Springhill (more like shacks which sell food for incredibly cheap prices) and the other foreign teachers have discovered their favourites already. It’s impossible to hail a taxi since the town is too small for any taxi business and the school and restaurants are just too far away to walk. So most local people ride scooters or cars. The teachers tend to share lifts with the one or two teachers who have cars. We aren’t actually a beach town. The nearest beach is about 20 minutes south at Port Dickson, where the most beautiful beaches have all been bought by private resorts. While there is a pretty promenade, it certainly isn’t Malaysia’s most spectacular beach town. The biggest city to us is called Seremban and it’s a 25 minute drive north-east from Springhill. I’d say it ranks similar to Pietermaritzburg in size. It has a big mall, lots of supermarkets, a big train and bus station and private hospitals (more on that later). The Malaysian government has ‘tagged’ Springhill as a development area and, in the future, there is a plan to build a University hospital, big shopping centres and, of course, develop the brand new international school. At this stage, it’s really just wide open space: undeveloped plantations and jungle.

The school

UCSI is a private owned company but it sounds like the owner gets some of his funding from the government. It’s a huge monstrosity amongst the beautiful vacant landscape of Springhill and has been built in an unusual order. It has about 6 floors of classrooms, a 50m swimming pool, full football size fields, basketball courts, an elaborate fountain at the entrance, hundreds of empty classrooms and a big boarding house. It also only has 14 students. I would have guessed that you start with a small classroom or two and then build on as you make money. Baden arrived at an empty classroom and has the opportunity to build up his own department with time: it’s just his thing. At this stage, there’s little paper work and marking so he has some time to settle in. His class sizes range from 1 to 3 to 6 in each class. I think he has to develop a whole new teaching style. We do feel like we’ve arrived at a good time: the swimming pool has just been finished so we can cool off from this Malaysian heat and the school has just purchased a car for the teachers. This means we can sign out the car for doctor’s appointments and quick runs to the shop. This buys us some time before we buy our own car.

Enjoying an afternoon swim at the school.

Enjoying an afternoon swim at the school.

The house

The main thing that has consumed most of our time lately has been finding a house. Because the town is so small, there isn’t a lot to choose from. There were tons of ‘link’ homes available but that means you have local people on either side of you and you feel quite squashed in. After a year in a Korean 1-bedroom apartment, we really wanted a small house with a garden. There were a few big houses available but they were out of our price range and eventually we settled for a small house in the corner. We contacted the landlord who agreed to semi-furnish the house for us (beds, couch, washing machine, fridge, kitchen counters, dining room set, stove). We have an aircon in our bedroom but the rest of the house is so incredibly hot that I sometimes feel like I’ll pass out. We might need to negotiate another aircon or two with the landlord. We’ve been very fortunate to stay with another teacher for a few weeks while we searched.

Our little house in Springhill.

Our little house in Springhill.

The baby

And for those who’ve made it all the way to the bottom of this blog can be rewarded with the news that we are expecting a boy! I’ve found a very good private hospital in Seremban (20 minutes from us) with a good doctor who studied and worked in London for a while. His English is excellent and he boasted that their technology was more advanced than the Korean doctor I’ve been seeing. Their delivery charges are very high but the general consultancy prices seem reasonable. Sadly Baden’s school doesn’t offer any medical insurance so we are starting to save now. I feel happy and comfortable with our choice.

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