Friday, September 30, 2011

More highlights from Malaysia - Melaka

The riverfront in Melaka

A replica of Dutch ship which houses a maritime museum

Ryan and I in front of the ruins of a 17th century Portuguese church
There are so many things still to catch up on from our trip to Malaysia! After Langkawi, we spent a couple of days in Melaka, south of KL where we explored the city and did some shopping. Melaka has been an important trading port throughout the history of Malaysia, even before Europeans arrived. The maritime museum was particularly interesting, especially because it was inside a replica of a Dutch ship that sank of the coast of Malaysia in the 17th century. We learned more about the spice trade and about the history of European settlement in Peninsular Malaysia. I read plenty about that at the National Museum too, but only remembered a fraction. Maybe now that I've read about it twice, I'll remember more!

We stayed in a guesthouse in Chinatown - a cool old part of the city. I'm glad we stayed there; it was definitely the happening place to be. It was close to good hawker stalls (street food), restaurants, gift shops, and the riverfront. After Melaka we headed to Taman Negara National Park - more about that tomorrow...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Oil Platforms in the Gulf of Thailand

Multiple processing platforms with attached well head and two attached living quarters

Supplies being unloaded from a crew boat at the living quarters

I was amazed by just how massive these structures are

Sunset with four well head platforms on the horizon

The living quarter platforms are very well lit at night, whereas some of the unmanned well heads have almost no lights at all.

The flare towers always make for dramatic photos (the flare towers are for burning off excess gas).
One of the most amazing things I experienced while working in the Gulf of Thailand was visiting the oil platforms.  I learned that there are actually many different types of platforms.  Most are unmanned "well heads" where oil or gas is extracted. There are literately hundreds of these in the Gulf.  From these platforms the petroleum is piped along the sea floor to a "Central Processing Platform".  Attached to the processing platform by a walkway are the living quarters (LQ).  The LQ are their own little world where people work, sleep, eat and attemt to live normal lives.  There are offices, picnic tables, and even a small soccer field underneath the helicopter landing pad.

To get from our boat to the platform required a ride on a basket.  I found riding on the basket fun, but was surprised by this method of transport given the overwhelming focus on safety by the oil company.  The only thing that keeps you from falling off the basket is your own arms wrapped tightly around the ropes, no safety harness, no redundancy.  So I couldn't help but laugh when I was riding on the basket and thinking about how I was told earlier in the day that I needed to ware safety glasses while scooping mud with a spoon.

The amount of infrastructure in the Gulf was impressive. It was not unusual to see a dozen or more platforms on the horizon.  It made me think a lot about our dependency on oil and what we will do when it is all gone.  I'm not just talking about America, all around the world we are consuming more and more oil and its important to keep in mind that it won't last forever.  It might not be our problem in this lifetime but its never too early to start thinking about alternatives.  Maybe all those platforms can be fitted with wind and water turbines and solar arrays to produce alternative energy rather than extracting fossil fuels.  But then how will you get there to service the platforms?  Our ship took on over 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel at the start of the survey!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Working offshore in Thailand

Holding a core tube of mud - being required to wear coveralls, a hard hat and PFD all the time didn't help me deal with the heat.
The Miclyn Energy from an oil drilling platform. Transferring between the boat and platforms was interesting as they use a crane and a basket.
Living quarters attached to a processing platform.  On top is the helicopter pad and backed up to the platform in a crew boat.

Everyone on the aft-deck gets very wet when you back into 10 ft seas.  Most of the time the seas were only 2-4 feet.
Prior to our vacation in Malaysia I spent four weeks working in Thailand. For three weeks I was offshore in the Gulf of Thailand aboard the 61 meter Miclyn Energy. The vessel was on charter to perform environmental sampling and I was there to operate our Vibrocorer and assist with other operations. I worked closely with three other Tetra Tech employes and also with a group Thai people familiar with other sampling methods. This was my first experience working abroad and it couldn't have been better.

The boat was only 5 years old and was well equipped, both mechanically and in terms of living space. There were about 30 people on board, about 12 science personnel and the rest were part of the boat crew including a catering crew of 4. Everyone was very friendly although language barriers prevented me from conversing with most of the crew.

The weather in the Gulf of Thailand is extremely hot, especially for someone from Alaska.  I can't really say I got use to it. I'm not sure I ever would.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More Langkawi Photos

The Langkawi Cable Car

The sky walkway

Ann Marie and her roommate Tomoko on the walkway

Rich and Ryan on the cable car
Cooling off in a waterfall pool
Rubber trees
Sunset in on the Pantai Cenang Beach
I thought I'd share more photos from Langkawi since we had an exceptionally awesome time there. One of the many highlights was riding the cable car and walking on the sky walkway among the mountain tops. On the first day we tried to ride the cable car, there were so many people up there that they closed the ticket line for a couple of hours. We vowed to be there first thing in the morning the next day to beat the lines. After being slowed down by a flat tire, we still got there early enough to avoid most of the crowds. What a view!

We loved Langkawi and I would recommend it to anyone who's going to be in the this part of Southeast Asia. The beaches were beautiful, the ocean was calm and warm, the waterfall pools were great for swimming, and there was a variety of cheap accommodation and yummy food.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Ryan, Ann Marie, and myself on our way to Taman Negara National Park
I made it - after 41 hours of almost non-stop travel-if my cross-time-zone math is not mistaken. It's hard to believe that the day before yesterday I was in the jungle in the middle of Malaysia and this morning I woke up in my own bed in Seattle. Air travel is amazing.

My return trip started Saturday morning in Kuala Tahan (right outside Taman Negara National Park) in central Malaysia where we took a 2 hour river boat ride to Kuala Tembeling and transferred to a bus (3 hours) back to KL. I had a few hours to unpack, organize, and repack, eat dinner, and buy a few last souvenirs before I took the light rail to the airport to catch my 2am flight to Shanghai (5 hours). Amazingly I had a whole row to myself, even though the plane looked pretty full otherwise, so I was able to sleep most of the way. In Shanghai I had six hours which went fairly quickly with two hour-long naps...until my flight was delayed two hours. The 10 hour flight didn't seem so bad compared to the 12 hours on the way there! Except for the last 35 was so turbulent that many people had their barf bags out (including me!) and I saw two little kids throw up in front of me. I was SURE I was going to loose my breakfast before that plane landed and it is a miracle I didn't. I felt green for hours after we landed. I couldn't bring myself to eat lunch even though I was hungry so I stopped for a smoothy on the way home.

After arriving in Vancouver, BC at 10:30am, I waited in the longest line for immigration I've ever experienced. I was reminded that Canadians are really nice though! It was a good hour and a half before I got my bag and made it to my car in long-term parking. At the border there was a bit of a wait too. I pulled into my driveway at 3pm and went straight to bed for two hours. After grocery shopping and taking care of a few things around the house, I went back to bed at 8pm SURE that I was exhausted enough to sleep for a good 12 hours. But I underestimated the effect of crossing nine time zones (I think). I've been up since 2:45 this morning. I stayed in bed, convinced I would fall back asleep but hunger finally drove me to the kitchen at 4. After trying again to go back to sleep, I finally got up and started a canning project at 6:30. And now, at 8:30, I'm headed to the airport to pick up Ryan!

Southeast Asia is a long ways away, but I would go again in a heartbeat.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I went back to Petaling Street Market in Chinatown with Ryan. I caved and bought the knock-off Coach purse. And a pair of knock-off Gucci sunglasses. How could I say no when a man was running after me with the purse yelling "110, 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, 40!" At 40 ringgit I turned around a bought the purse. Not a bad deal if I do say so myself.

The sunglass sale was almost as comical. There were signs all over for 15 ringgit sunglasses - but I didn't like any of them. I pointed to a pair I thought I would like sitting on a table and inquired as to the price. The lady said "Oh, too much" in a very serious voice, "35 ringgit." I almost burst out laughing. Thirty-five ringgit is about $12. So I bargained a little and walked home with a pair of slightly over-the-top blingy (is that a word?) sunglasses. But I was in Chinatown, what can I say?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I've been hoping to buy a variety of spices while in Malaysia if for no other reason than the novelty of it. The spice trade was such an influential factor in world history from the movement of ideas and inventions overland between Asia and Europe to the maritime exploration that led to the "discovery" of North America - I just thought it fitting to buy spices while in Southeast Asia.

I finally made it into a grocery store and found some spices. I almost died when I realized how cheap they were. I did not think I was going to get so excited about SPICES, but really, they were CHEAP. A package of a spice that might cost $5 at home was about 60 cents here. So I stocked up on all the spices I use for canning and pickling. And then some. And then I found the baking aisle. They and almond extract and other flavors for equally exciting prices. So I bought some of those too.

We were also buying some snack food, cereal, and milk at the same store. I was prepared to drop a few bucks. I was shocked (and pleasantly surprised) when it all rang up to about $33. All those spices and extracts would have easily cost more than three times that at home. Dang, that was a good deal! We'll just pretend it didn't cost me four digits to fly to Malaysia. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Adventures on Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi truly has been a tropical paradise.  Perfect beaches and sunsets, lush mountains with refreshing waterfalls, it is no wonder this place is a vacation destination for travelers and Malaysians alike.
Yesterday we drove to a nearby town hiked to a waterfall.  The guide book mentioned natural pools that you could swim in and slide between.  The water was perfect and the sliding was absurdly fun!
We rented a car for two days and were able to visit many sights around the island.  We are thankful for my friend Rich driving, all we had to do was sit in the back and remind him to keep left.  We got one flat tire but did manage to get it changed.  We were missing the crank to the car jack but I thought to steal the hood support from the engine compartment and it worked like a charm.  Today we are  headed to Melaka south of KL.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tropical Paradise

We're on Langkawi - laying on the beach and drinking fresh fruit juice and smoothies. The town we're in is touristy, but does that really matter when the beach looks like this? Yesterday and today were beach days, tomorrow and Sunday we're renting a car and sightseeing. I'm hoping the waterfall "with refreshing pools" lives up to the description in Lonely Planet. Now it's time for more cold drinks and dinner.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Getting into the swing of things and the Islamic Arts Museum

The domed ceiling in the Islamic Arts Museum

An example of Rescht embroidery
The Quran
Ann Marie looking very professional for her first presentation about Alaska to local Rotary clubs
I'm getting more and more comfortable everyday getting around KL - figuring out where the light rail and monorail stations are, where good walking routes exist (and where they don't), and where to catch a cab. Ann Marie and I are also getting better at bargaining with the cab drivers. Even though the cabs are metered, there are certain places where they can get away with setting a price because there are no public transportation or walking options. One of those places is Lake Gardens where the National Museum and Islamic Arts Museum are located. At first, Ann Marie and I were too timid to bargain or afraid of being stuck without a ride home. Now, we're getting the hang of it and even walked the 15 min home last night from the monorail station when the cab drivers insisted the trip would cost 10 ringgit (it cost 3 ringgit on the way there). Even though 10 ringgit is barely more than $3, we knew enough to know that was three times what the trip should cost!

Yesterday while Ann Marie was in class I visited the Islamic Arts Museum. There were so many beautiful pieces of art, from tapestries, to clothing, jewelry, copies of the Quran, and ceramics. My memory was also refreshed about the spread of Islam into this part of the world. I think the last time I actually learned about the spread of Islam was in ninth grad social studies. Maybe it's time to do some brushing up on one of the world's major religions!

We've had a busy few days exploring KL and I am now ready for some relaxing on the beach. Ann Marie, her roommate Tomoko, and I are heading to the airport this morning to fly to Langkawi. Ryan and his co-worker Rich are meeting us there. They are taking a ferry from southern Thailand and are probably already on their way. We might be too busy laying on the beach to update for the next few days!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Kuala Lumpur in Two Days

Ann Marie and I at Lake Gardens
My first time at Stonehenge! (Just kidding, it's a replica. In the middle of Kuala Lumpur. Random?)
Ann Marie and I in front of the Petronas Towers
A night market

Petronas towers at night
Today is my third day in Kuala Lumpur and we've already packed in a lot of city sight seeing. On Sunday, we visited a couple of parks and markets and I tried to get used to 85 degrees with 85% humidity. Yesterday I wandered around alone while Ann Marie was in class. What we've learned is that Kuala Lumpur (KL) is not very pedestrian friendly. There are several forms of public transportation from buses to light rail and monorail, but sometimes, even if you can see a rail station, busy roads and a lack of cross walks make them almost impossible to get to! Luckily taxis are also very inexpensive here and during normal daytime hours you can hardly pay over $3 to go anywhere in the city (after 10pm they have a 50% surcharge though). It cost us a whopping $8 to get back from a concert downtown last night.

Yesterday I visited the National Museum where I learned all about the history of Malaysia. Then I headed to the Central Market, then Chinatown and Petaling Street Market which I found by using my failsafe method of following the hoards of other tourists. Petaling is a big market here where you can get everything from clothes to DVD's to cheap handbags. I did sort of want to buy a purse, but I could not bring myself to wear something Prada or Coach even if it's fake! After Chinatown, I was determined not to take my third taxi of the day, but instead to make it home by myself on the light rail. I found the station no problem, but a big bus transfer station seemed to block the light rail platform and I couldn't find the staircase. With the help of some security guards I finally found it, bought my ticket and made it on the correct train. I thought I was home free when trying to exit at KL Sentral (Ann Marie's stop) the ticket gate ate my ticket and wouldn't let me out (I guess I put it in the wrong way?). So I  had to pay another ringgit (~30 cents) to exit. KL Sentral is a huge station and I was very happy to recognize the exit and Ann Marie had taken me through the day before and get myself headed back to her apartment. I knew if I couldn't find my way back, I could just hop in a cab. But I made it on my own! It certainly helps that almost everyone speaks English here and people are very helpful.

Today, after Ann Marie's class, we're headed to the Forestry Research Institute outside of KL. On Thursday we fly to Langkawi (an island in northwest Malaysia) where we're meeting Ryan and relaxing on the beach!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Urban berry-picking

Not exactly the type of berry patch I'm used to.

The biggest berries are always just out of reach!
Even though I'm only home for a few days and even though I have tons of unpacking, laundry/cleaning, and repacking to do, it has been KILLING me that there are blackberries everywhere and I'm not picking them! So I skipped out on organizing for my Malaysia trip for a little while and went urban foraging. This consisted of walking around my neighborhood with a ziplock bag looking for blackberry bushes hanging over the road. I found three pretty good patches and picked about a quart and a half. Of course, the big plump berries were always just out of reach. It's always tempting to think "I can just step in there with one leg and pull that branch down..." but the thorns on these bushes are no joke (nor are the giant brown spiders). These are Himalayan blackberries, introduced to North American in the 19th century and different from the Common blackberry many people are familiar with on the East coast. They have nasty thorns. Really nasty; I came home with a little blood on my arm after getting a little too greedy. They'll also rip holes in your clothing if you get snagged. The key is to find a place where the bushes are hanging over the road and just pick right on the edge. It's a hard rule to follow when the best berries are just out of reach though.

This is a totally different type of berry picking than I'm used to in Kodiak of course. This is a type of berry picking where you have to be worried about being hit by cars and trespassing in someone's yard, rather than the kind where you have to worry about over-sized bears and pushki. And since I never saw blackberries as a kid (they don't grow in Alaska), they are still a little unreal to me. Everytime I see a really nice juicy bunch of blackberries, all I can think of is a book called "Jamberry" that I had as a kid. My parents read it to me so many times that I can still hear parts of it in my head. They probably can too.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

More fun in the sun - beach, zoo, and troll

Kendall and I on the ferry to Whidbey Island

Kendall and her dad picking out seashells to take home

Kendall and her mom at the zoo

Could this kid be any cuter?

Kendall feeding a bird in the Willawa room
We enjoyed more beautiful sunny weather for the rest of Doug, Jenni, and Kendall's visit to Seattle. We took the ferry to Whidbey Island and hung out on Double Bluff Beach for hours on Sunday. It felt hot to me but it was a nice break from the desert heat for them. Yesterday we spent most of the day at the zoo where we saw all sorts of exciting animals and Kendall got to feed some tropical birds.

We also visited the Fremont Troll - which Kendall has been asking about. She had also been speculating as to whether it was "real" or not. When we got there, she marched right up to it, walked/climbed all around it, touched it, and finally declared it to be "not real." It's funny to remember that six-year-olds have a different sense of reality than we do, they're still figuring it out.

Doug, Jenni, and Kendall left last night and I am back to unpacking, doing laundry, and packing again. Only three more days until I leave for MALAYSIA! If you want to read about the sorts of adventures I might be having in Malaysia, check out my cousin's brand new blog in Kuala Lumpur:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Doug, Jenni, and Kendall in Seattle

Kendall at the Space Needle

Kendall intently wiggling her tooth at the aquarium

Doug, Jenni, and Kendall at Pike Place Market

Kendall and her tooth, bloody napkin and all!

The six-year-old toothy smile
I made it back to Seattle just in time to meet my uncle Doug, aunt Jenni, and cousin Kendall for the holiday weekend. This is the first time they've been to visit Seattle since I've lived here. A couple of years ago, I sent Kendall a book called "Larry gets lost in Seattle." It's about a little dog who gets separated from his owner and wanders all over Seattle visiting famous landmarks while trying to find his way home. Kendall has read this book many, many times and had a few things picked out that she wanted to see here.

The first thing on the list was the Space Needle and the weather couldn't have been better! It was in the 70's and we had clear views of the Cascades, the Olympics, and Mt. Rainier. Kendall told me after she got here that's she's been studying sea animals in school, so we headed to the aquarium where we saw among other things, harbor seals being fed.

All the while we were downtown, Kendall was furiously working on pulling out a loose tooth (she just lost her first one a few weeks ago). She was VERY serious about getting that tooth out, even to the point of making it bleed! Despite all the encouragement from her parents to let it come out on its own and not pull too hard, almost every time I'd look back at her while walking down the street, she'd be wiggling away at that little front, bottom tooth. After the aquarium we visited Pike Place Market, where she excitedly announced she had finally lost the tooth! Doug and Jenni quickly got the video camera out while Kendall proudly displayed her tooth and bloody napkin.

After Kendall's bedtime, a lengthy discussion ensued on the appropriate amount of money a tooth fairy should leave. Doug and Jenni were in a bit of a pickle with Kendall's first tooth as they were camping and the smallest bill they had was a $5 - so Kendall got $5 for her first tooth, a bit of a high standard (my first thought was wow, that is some inflation!). Apparently tooth-rewards are also quite the topic of conversation on the first grade playground, making keeping up with the Jones's a concern. We even googled the going rate which seemed to be anywhere in the $1-$5 range. In the end, a reduced rate of $3 was decided upon. If any disappointments arose in the morning, it would be explained that one's first tooth was special and subsequent teeth result in a slightly smaller monetary reward. Jenni also pointed that Kendall won't believe in the tooth fairy forever; there are only so many times when loosing a tooth will be this special. That was a funny conversation to listen and one that I've never really thought about when I imagine having kids some day!

Tomorrow we're on to another landmark Kendall is keen to visit: the Fremon troll. She's been asking whether it's a good or bad troll. I guess we'll have to find out...