19 December 2016

2016 in Memories

I kind of think 2016 is the year I don't want to remember, but that would be terribly unfair to the year itself. The great thing I've discovered, going through blog posts from the past year, is that my writing style naturally tends to leave out the worse memories and focus on the good and adventure-worthy, so, actually, reading through the blog was helpful in reminding me of all the good instead of making me dwell on the not-so-good of earlier in the year.

A year-in-review post is tradition, and this is how I'll say goodbye to the blog till 2017.


This year started off in a way I'd never yet rung in the new year--while in a metro train station in Singapore! We counted down along with the disembodied voice over the loudspeaker and kissed at midnight, and greeted other late night travelers who were ringing in the new year on the train.

Here's the post that describes how we spent the first few days of 2016 in Singapore, Angel's very first, and so far, only, visit to that nation:

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and A Ferry


February doesn't stand out too much in my memory of the year, although this year we had a Leap Day, which is pretty awesome, am I right? I did do something which is totally #lifegoals in February: I created my very first parody music video--an amazing (yes, I do say so myself) love song about food. Tangled's famous "I See the Light" becomes "It Is Lunchtime". Utterly amazing. One of the proudest achievements of my life.


March is the beginning of birthday season in my family, which meant that while we spent much of the month in the normal routine of work and homeschool and our usual responsibilities, we snuck in plenty of celebrating! Planning and hosting an Alice in Wonderland-themed UnBirthday Tea for my 14-year-old sister was a highlight--probably the prettiest party I've ever put together. Angel and I surprised my sisters with the perfect birthday present--an outing to watch Disney on Ice! Easter happened, and Angel got baptized this month.


I honored my Dad's birthday and April Fool's Day by attempting to prank my beloved reader's by sharing the story behind Angel's and my (nonexistent) tattoos. I also discovered our wedding video, which had been lost for a few years, in a forgotten dropbox account. That's how people lose stuff in the digital age, folks!


Be still my heart. The highlight of this month was the fact that my sister Anna returned home after her first year of college. One of the most precious people in the world to me--I couldn't wait to simply 'do life' with her for a couple months. Angel earned himself 9th place in a 10K race--and won a bike in the raffle afterwards, which made it an especially exciting race (of course, now the wife expects him to place and, in addition, to win raffle prizes, in all races, which might be an unreasonably high standard). I colored my hair a vivid turquoise after finally getting the much coveted bright hair color I'd asked Anna to bring along in her suitcase! I also hosted one of the biggest events of my year--a community 'date night' for married couples, where we provided a 4-course meal, entertainment, and childcare. An intimidating event to put together (adults are a tough audience!) but one that I'm glad I put into action, as complicated as it was ( stoves at the venue didn't work and we had food to cook...what would you do?)


These months were big ones as far as events I had planned! I'd organized a spiritual retreat to Cameron Highlands which took place this month, and went over splendidly--so splendidly that I hope to do something of the sort again this next year if timing works out. This was Anna's last full month in the country, and in order to maximize adventure, the two of us took a little trip to Singapore all on our own, and adventured everywhere we could on buses. On that trip, we had many adventure, including an 11+km hike through very steep, muddy terrain that left my legs sore for the next two days. Angel ran a half marathon and placed 4th in his division, winning another trophy, but this time he did not win anything in the lucky draw, and we were disappointed in him. ;)


First things first. I colored my hair purple, and I had to say goodbye to Anna. July was the month that we took the dream birthday trip that I'd been plotting for months--a week-long getaway to Tokyo, Japan in honor of Angel's 32nd and my 25th birthday. I had schemed for months, snagging surprisingly affordable plane tickets on a budget airline, and small apartments on Airbnb for inexpensive housing--leaving us able to splurge on tickets to DisneySea and Disneyland while we were in town. We had great expectations for our trip, and Tokyo surpassed them all. I fell in love with ramen, and enjoyed the widely available butter popcorn and bagels (not widely available here at all!). I bought dresses in Harajuku and Angel got to tour a museum dedicated to parasites. It was the perfect adventure. Also, in July, we celebrated our 2nd anniversary of living abroad. Year two was harder than the first year, that's certain.


Sure, I'd just had a great vacation in July, but my parents had the opportunity for a free place to stay in KL for a week, so I joined them on their family vacation with my little sisters, leaving Angel at home to work while we played for a week. As soon as vacation was over, all the busy-ness of life came back in full force after a summer of fun enjoying time spent with our visiting sister Anna and other summer adventures. We did, however, make enough time to create and film another parody music video--this time, a parody of Charlie Puth's "One Call Away". Ours is called "Two Feet Away", and is dedicated to everyone who's addicted to their smartphone. Also, my sister Lizzy got engaged this month and began planning her wedding, which will take place next year.


In early September, I found out that I was pregnant. Hoping for a baby was a long season which I had shared with very few in my life. Here, finally, I actually had that precious little one I'd longed for and got to share all the  joy with family and friends. My littlest sister suggest I name the baby "Black Jack". We dressed up and took our announcement photo and giggled as we watched family members open the photo on Skype. Angel started leaving notes with potential baby names on them around the house. Work was very busy but we woke up each morning and went to sleep each night in joy. I hosted a lock-in for teens and a ladies' fellowship crafting + manis + cookies party in the same weekend.


On October 1st I told the baby "Welcome to your very first October!" I was ridiculously excited. Little did I know I only had about a week of that joy left. I ended up spending much of the month in a dark fog, barely able to keep up with the work I had to do. My memory of October is mostly just black.


Life keeps going, somehow. I still broke into tears at very little provocation. I still had trouble sleeping--nights were especially sad and I often woke up in the morning in tears. But I was able to exercise and I was able to feel comfortable teaching lessons again. I wrote a little more and I busied my hands with organizing the house. I ordered a memory ring in honor of my first baby. We made plans for an anniversary getaway and started preparing for Christmas


It would be difficult to not be able to see sparkles of joy in December. The month started with our beautiful anniversary getaway, a good time of rest and renewal. The month was busy--although not too busy with Christmas-related activities: there is youth camp and a VBS to run before Christmas even happens. A weird sort of loneliness remains, though hope relentlessly breaks through at times.  Now, onward to 2017.


Merry Christmas to you all and a Happy New Year!

What were the highlights of "The Random Writings" blog for you this year? Anything particularly good or memorable, or any critique that I ought to remember as this blog follows me into a new year?

Helene in Between
13 December 2016

The Importance of Feeding People Well

I come from a family that is very talented in the kitchen. The food we make might not always be the most delicate or artistically designed, but it is amazingly delicious, and we have 100s of people who have eaten meals we've cooked who can attest to that as truth. Our pot roast with gravy, deviled eggs, 7-layer salad, mashed potatoes, and mint surprise cookies are famous across several countries. Even our potato salad is loved by complete strangers, which is funny, because we don't even like potato salad. (Who knew there would be such a taste for America's comfort foods in Southeast Asia?)

The immense value of cooking for others and, whenever you have the opportunity to feed someone, doing a fine job of it, was drilled into me at an early age, and I've seen its impact many times over the years.

When I was 12, I worked on my first roof, re-shingling my grandparents' house. Their house needed a new roof, and they couldn't put it on themselves, so they had family and church friends over for a weekend to get the roof completed. When we finished the roof, they fed all of us workers T-bone steaks they'd grilled. As a 12 year old, for one thing, I fell in love with working on roofs (little known fact about Rachel), and I also found out how, simply and effectively, Grandma and Grandpa showed their immense appreciation for all the people that took the time to come out and give them a new roof, just by cooking a fantastic meal.

When I was a kid, my mom taught me the rules of potlucks--always bring a meat dish, and always bring more than one dish if you can. The idea there is that meat dishes are more expensive, so many people avoid bringing them to potlucks, instead opting for the lesser investment of something like bread or a veggie tray. But if everyone chooses that easier, cheaper option, you'll be dining on a feast of french bread and fruits and veggies alone (which, considering I lean towards vegetarian, sounds glorious). However, Mom taught me--you should never be the one who takes the easier route--show that you value the friends you're eating with by making them a dish that takes more effort, that costs more for ingredients. Not as a matter of pride, but as a matter of the fact that people need to be fed, and you should always feed them well. As someone who is not much of a meat lover, this is not a rule I have always implemented according to the letter of the law, but I have implemented it in spirit--don't take the easiest and cheapest route when you have the opportunity to share food with friends. Put some effort and thought and investment into it--but you don't have to make a big deal about it and get all stressed out, either. My 14-year-old sister makes a homemade lunch from scratch for a dozen people three times a week. It's nothing artistic or technically excellent, but it's healthy food that everyone enjoys; simple, homey dishes like cashew chicken and stir-fried veggies with rice. If a teenager can do that with ease, surely we who are adults can contribute a few dishes to a potluck or host a dinner party without griping about it.

I do not love cooking. But it's a necessity of life, and a way to serve my family and friends, and I cook very well. As a freshman in college, I attended a Thanksgiving potluck with a pot of fried bi hun with chicken and a batch of molasses cookies. That's the infamous potluck where Angel ate 5 of my cookies and took some home--and started changing his opinion of me as a 'weird homeschooled kid.' My college sophomore sister carries on the 'college student who cooks' legacy by bringing batches of brownies to class on days when she's giving presentations.

When we lived in Michigan, we'd have summer barbecues of carne asada tacos and invite the whole gang over. If my uncle or grandpa was around, working on the farm, when I started cooking dinner, I'd make them a plate. When we first moved to China, we made it our mission to invite everyone we met and made friends with over for at least one meal at our house during our year there, and we did--despite the fact that our kitchen had exactly 4 sq. ft. of floor space.

By feeding people well, you show that they are valuable. I've attended several events recently where I, and the other people who attended, were not fed well. Cold rice with a bit of chicken curry and a spoonful of canned baked beans served in a plastic box with a bottle of water. I didn't feel welcomed, or appreciated for attending. I didn't feel important or valued. I felt like I might as well have stayed home, cooked my own lunch, and then at least I could have eaten well. I would not be inclined to participate again in events hosted by the same people, for the simple reason that it seemed like no thought and little expense was put into my meal.

(Thanksgiving this year--Two chickens took up the entire oven, but the green bean casserole needed to be heated before dinner, so we used the radiating heat from the top of the oven. It worked!)

Feeding other people well costs money. It absolutely does. Investing into relationships, showing people that you value and appreciate them costs money, and it should. Where our money is, there our heart is, right? Or something like that. Since moving to Malaysia, I've had to get used to living on a much tighter budget. That budget will always have room for feeding people in it. Maybe my 'meat dish' at a potluck will be my homemade chili, since the way I make it it has hardly any expensive ground beef anyway, but it's amazingly delicious and satisfying nonetheless. Some of the best and most extravagant meals I've ever eaten have been at the homes of people who live in the simplest of circumstances, so I am convinced that feeding others need not be a service opportunity open only to the rich.

Next week, I'm part of the leadership team that's running an event requiring over 50 volunteers--people who are spending their Christmas week helping us accomplish a large project that we, the leaders, have been dreaming of and working toward for the past 6 months. I'm going to do my part to make sure those volunteers know that their service is appreciated by the food they are served--earlier this week I bought some hard-to-find molasses and Andes mints so that I can get to baking my favorite cookies for them (those ingredients belong in two different recipes, it should be noted).

When have you felt loved and appreciated because someone put the time and effort into feeding you good food? When do you have the opportunity to show your appreciation by feeding others?
11 December 2016

Angelisms, Part 14

Angel's 'photoshop skillz' demonstrated in my 2009 family photo.

{Scene: Random family conversation about the benefits and challenges of marrying people who already have kids.}

Angel: "I would marry a woman who had kids."
Rachel: "Really? Because before you always said you would not marry someone who already had kids."
Angel: "Well, I would. If the kids were already grown up and out of the house."
Rachel: " old is this woman we're talking about?"
Angel: "Hey, she's rich! Doesn't matter how old she is."


{Scene: I'm trying to find a specific file on Angel's desktop. He literally saves everything in his computer on his desktop, the entire screen of his computer is a mass of completely unorganized files and programs. I've never seen anything like it on anyone else's computer.}

Rachel: "'re going to have to find it because I have no idea even where to start looking here.."
Angel: "Are you saying my desktop is too messy?"
Rachel: "Yes."
Angel: "Rachel...if it weren't for life right now would be just as messy as this desktop is today."
Rachel: "...That's the smoothest thing you've ever said to me."


{Scene: Elevator}

*Angel pushes the wrong floor button but I don't notice because I'm chatting away happily. When the elevator stops at the wrong floor, he leads the way out, and I follow along still talking about some adventure from the day. We walk along the hallway for a while until we get to where our apartment should be...and it's not our apartment. The door grate is the wrong color. Because we're on the wrong floor. We walk up the stairs to get to our apartment rather than walking all the way back to the elevator.*

Rachel: "This doesn't make tricking me into getting off on the wrong floor and having to take the stairs up, you also had to get off on the wrong floor and take the stairs. What kind of prank is that?"
Angel: "The best."


{Scene: Angel is on the phone making a reservation. I hear only his side of the conversation.}

Angel: "Actually, It's Mr. Angel."
Angel: "Oh, no problem, I've gotten that my whole life. It's totally okay."
After he got off the phone:
Rachel: "So what did they call you? Mr. Angle?"
Angel: "No...she called me...Miss Angel."
Rachel: "Even after hearing your voice on the phone?" *collapses in laughter*


{Scene: Angel shared the sweetest photo of him and Sarah on Facebook, with the caption "I never had a little sister, but now I do." I told him that was so cute, and this was his response.}

Angel: "Yeah, I'm going to tell Sarah that I'm so happy to finally have a little sister after 32 years with no little sister at all!"
Rachel: "......Well technically she's already been your sister for six years, she was three when she met I'm not sure 'finally' is the right word."
Angel: "Yes, finally. Because all of the years up until now were more of a 'courtship' or 'trial' phase, but now we've passed the trial phase and she's my real little sister."
Rachel: "...that's not how it works. Besides, you have five little sisters, not just Sarah."
Angel: "Nope, they're all bigger than me. Sarah's the only option."
Rachel: "Well they weren't all bigger than you 6 years ago."
Angel: "It's too late for them."


Just for fun, I have to include a Rebekah-ism in this collection. Rebekah is a very distinctive character in the long list of characters that comprise my family.

{Scene: Sitting around the dinner table after dinner.}

Rebekah: "Do you ever just look at human fingers and think--I bet they would be really tasty!"
Rachel: ....
Rebekah: "No, really, I bet they'd be just like chicken wings! Delicious!"
Rachel: "I'm writing this on my blog."
08 December 2016

Is it Better?

Some weeks after our loss, my mom asked me, "Remember that old saying: 'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. What do you think now? Is it better to have loved and lost?"

I've come to the conclusion that I must agree with the old cliche. Yes, it is better to have loved and lost.

But it's oh, so, so much harder.

In my own mind and in my own prayers, of years past, I've thought, if I had to pick one battle, I'd pick not being able to get pregnant in the first place over having a baby and losing one. I even prayed that if I wasn't going to get a live baby to hold, that I never get the promise of one to begin with. Infertility seemed like an option I could live with, I could deal with, I could understand. Miscarriage, I could not.

Different experiences impact people in different ways. Finding out that babies are not as easily come by as 'they', whoever they are, always seem to claim that babies are, was a shock. I was frustrated, even a bit crazy at times. But I could still live, it didn't have to take over my life. I could learn and I could strategize. I could take little actions of faith, of hope for the baby that would someday come. I had my moments of sadness, but mostly I felt, deep down, even in the unlikely possibility that I never got a baby, that I'd be okay. I could have other dreams and plans not related to a baby at all. I had moments of being upset but, overall, I was content.

But I'm not at all okay with losing a baby I did have. There's no strategy my analytical brain can think of for fixing this situation. There's no amount of faith I can have that will give me that baby back. After two months, I'm able to have hours of happiness again--but the best I can say is that once or twice I've made it to 48 hours without crying, and that's a big improvement. I can get my housework and my teaching done, and that's a big improvement. Various other non-baby-related dreams and plans seem crushed or have lost their allure because most of life doesn't seem as shiny as it did before.

This is ever so much harder, but still, I must agree, at the level of reality instead of at the level of mere feelings, it is better. Because death is not powerful enough to cancel out the goodness of life. October does not negate September. There is something 'better' that remains even though every part of me feels worse.

I have often felt in the past two months that I'm not good at handling this. That other people seem to be able to handle it more calmly and simply accept medical realities, find the silver linings and all that sort of optimistic stuff. Angel's much better at it. I don't know why I'm not better at it. I don't know why I can be having a perfectly fine day and then wrap Christmas presents for my sisters and find myself crying for an hour over how I'll never get to wrap Christmas presents for my first baby. For someone that's always been a straight-A student, I feel like I'd give myself a solid C- in grief. I do not fault anyone around me for this--so many people have been impossibly kind. It's just me, and my stubborn refusal to learn anything valuable from the loss of my child or to see anything good in death--God's enemy and mine, too.

To me, miscarriage was/is both better and more agonizing than the threat of infertility was...however, though I know my future isn't under my control, I can't help but desperately hope I won't have to face it again.
06 December 2016

Pangkor Laut Resort Experience - 5-Star Resort

For this year's anniversary, we decided to do something completely different--to stay close to home and splurge on a nice hotel rather than traveling somewhere far distant and staying in budget hostels or a rented room in somebody's home. A coworker had mentioned Pangkor Laut Resort to Angel some months ago. Finding out that the resort was an easy 3-hour drive from home and that that everyone who had been there seemed to recommend Pangkor Laut very highly, we were very intrigued.

However, we were sold when we discovered "The Resident's Package" -- an all-inclusive deal, which included 2 nights lodging, 3 meals a day for 2 people, and the cost of the boat ride to the resort and back. This package is available to Malaysian citizens and...expats who legally reside in the country! Hurray! Our 3-day, 2-night trip came out to a complete total, food, lodging, transport, including tax and service charges and everything, of 2000RM, or about $450 USD at the current exchange rate. Yes, it was a big splurge and not cheap by any means, but also probably not too much more expensive than a slightly longer budget vacation for two--by the time you add up flights, meals, housing, and activities cost. I was surprised that you could have a 5-star resort experience at that price, as I've always thought such vacations were more in the realm of possibility for millionaires than for the rest of us. :)

The Boat

The 5-star experience really begins from the boat ride, or more accurately, from the lounge where you check in to the resort and await the beginning of your boat journey. We were a bit on the late side, as we'd gotten a little lost trying to find the jetty (make sure you have driving directions ahead of time!), so I rushed in to the lounge while Angel parked the car, and was immediately greeted with a cool, perfumed towel to wash my hands with after the journey and a glass of sparkling juice. Whoa--what kind of world did I just step into?

Check-in only took a few minutes, we handed over our passports so that they could confirm we had residents' visas and they took our luggage away, gave us a map of the resort, and said the boat would be leaving shortly.

I have taken many boat rides in Malaysia. I love boats. I think it's just the funnest thing to be out on the water, zooming away at high speeds. But this boat ride was unlike any other boat ride I've ever been on in this country. The Pangkor Laut difference was instantly obvious. The boat itself was absolutely pristine. The cushions on the seats had no stains and weren't damp. The life jackets were dry, and not spotted with mildew nor smelly. I was already hugely impressed! (This is an interesting episode of "Budget Travelers go Luxury" already, isn't it?)

The day was a little bit stormy, and the water was choppy, so our boat ride was a bouncy one. Neither of us are in the least prone to seasickness, but those who are might want to be prepared before going out in the boat on a day when the sea is a little bit rough. When we arrived at the island's pier, we didn't even have to grab our own luggage, we were ushered straight to the reception and given more perfumed hand towels and more glasses of sparkling juice.

The Room

The staff member who met with us to give us our resort briefing and tour upon check-in was Filipino and spoke some Spanish, and throughout the introduction to the resort, he was joking with Angel about the similarities between Filipino and Mexican culture and they were speaking Spanish part of the time. He gave us our portable wifi box and sat down with the resort map, circling the Sea Villa that we would be staying in.

At that point, we both froze, and were utterly confused. "Sea Villa?" Angel asked, "But we didn't reserve a Sea Villa...I think we reserved a Hill Villa." Hill Villas were the most inexpensive tier of accommodation--we had both thought the Sea Villas, which stand on stilts over the water, were very cool, but this trip was already a splurge for us, so we'd gone ahead with reserving the most budget-friendly room. Our guide asked cheekily, "Oh, you don't want the Sea Villa?" and we were quick to assure him that we did, very much. The room upgrade was a very nice surprise, but the surprise wasn't over until we walked into our room. Normal check-in time was 3 p.m., it was about 1:30 by this time and they said our room was already prepared, so we went in right away.

As he unlocked the door for us, the guide said, "Of course, I already know why you are here today," and we walked in to see a bed covered with dozens of rose petals and roses and a pillow that said "Happy Anniversary!" We'd made a note on our reservation that this was a trip for our 6th anniversary--but I was amazed and how far above and beyond they'd gone with that information!

The wooden villa was beautiful in every way--it included a jacuzzi tub, a huge bathroom, a balcony, a plate of fruit, an elephant-shaped towel holding a rose...basically every cool thing you can think of.


There are many add-on, payable activities and excursions possible at Pangkor Laut Resort. Being in character as budget travelers at a luxury resort, we opted to stick to all the no-added-charge things to do. Besides that, we were not staying long, so we didn't even have time enough to experience all the free things available during our 3 days. I think you would need a longer stay to even consider spa services or boat excursions.

We were not short on things to do! Our favorite place to hang out was Emerald Bay. The water and setting was absolutely gorgeous--whenever we were here in the morning, the whole beach was completely deserted. Even when we spent the afternoon there, it never felt crowded, although there were several other guests enjoying sunbathing. The staff said that usually Emerald Bay is quite calm, but we were there on a relatively windy/stormy afternoon, and Angel loved the 2-3 foot waves. The beach staff had fins you could borrow (for free), and he tried a little body surfing. I, who usually abstain from all actual swimming, even got out into the bay over my head and got tumbled by quite a few waves as Angel tried to teach me how to swim with them and 'ride' them without a board. There were also swings and hammocks on the beach, which I loved very much.

We also tackled the 2.4 km Jungle trail from Emerald Bay back the the area around the Spa Village. Given that it's currently rainy season, the trail was very muddy. Most of the trail wasn't difficult to traverse, but we started from the Emerald Bay side, and right at the beginning, we were faced with a very steep hill that we had to get over and then go down from. That part was tough, and I was very glad the whole trail wasn't that steep! We were very muddy by the end of the trail--we enjoy hiking and incorporate it into every vacation, but I was also glad that the resort has a shuttle service to take you to Emerald Bay by the road, because that hike makes getting to the beach much more arduous.

We meant to visit the infinity pool and the fitness center as well, but spent so much time at Emerald Bay that we didn't manage to spend much time at either, although we did visit the fitness center, where Angel said, while looking at the treadmills, "Man, there's no tv for the treadmills..." The treadmills face large windows looking out over a pristine ocean. There's palm trees and flowers and you can see Pangkor Island across the water. I looked at Angel and said, "Seriously? A tv? I don't think these treadmills need a tv."

On our last day, after we checked out of the room, it started to rain, which squashed my dreams of running around playing photographer, but we went to the TV lounge, which was completely empty, and watched a bit of Transformers (so Angel did get his TV after all) until it was time to head to our boat to leave.

The Wildlife

Being in Malaysia, I often say that nature never seems far away. This is very true at Pangkor Laut Resort. This hornbill was just chilling a few feet away from our table while we ate lunch on the first day. The waiter warned us not to leave our food if we still wanted it since the bird would probably try to grab a bite if we left the table.

Fruit bats hung around in the trees during the day and fly around in the evening. The resort staff warned us to keep our villa locked at all times due to mischievous monkeys, but I actually didn't see a monkey the entire stay. We were also informed ahead of time that mosquitos can be a problem, especially in the evening or during cooler, rainy seasons, and came prepared with lemongrass repellent. Angel has always been very attractive to mosquitos and was bothered by them on the hike and in the evening. I came away with a couple bites on my legs but the mosquitos didn't seem to bother me nearly as much even though I wasn't nearly as copious with repellent as he was. I guess they're attracted to his personality.

The Food

Our package included two lunches, two dinners, and two breakfasts. We were told we could opt to take our two lunches either on the first day and second day, or else second and third day. We opted to start our vacation with lunch, and for our first meal we dined at:

The Royal Bay Beach Club

Our waiter informed us that under the Resident's Package, your meal includes any main dish along with either an appetizer or a dessert. This was a pleasant surprise, as Angel had been expecting that perhaps the meals 'included' in the package price were limited. We're the sort of people who, on vacation, split one entree for a meal or survive on snacks from 7/11, so eating two-course meals three times a day was a big difference (also, probably a good thing that we spent the rest of the time swimming and hiking or we might have come home with bigger bellies!) haha!

At this first restaurant, I had chicken meatball and veggie soup and a quesadilla and Angel ordered a hamburger and chocolate ice cream. It was a very enjoyable start to our trip, to sit overlooking the pool and the ocean, and enjoy the cool breeze.

Feast Village

For our first dinner, we made reservations at Feast Village. We are so not used to fancy restaurants at all, so I was in awe of the cloth napkins (and a waiter who puts in the napkin in your lap with a flourish) and the seaside seating. We both ordered sirloin steaks for our main dish, and I got the brownie arancia for dessert while Angel got ice cream.

I'll be honest--the steak was not particularly good. I'm American, and we do steaks very well in America, which is one of the reasons why I haven't ordered a steak in 2.5 years because I know steaks are not really a strong point in this part of the world. It was still yummy and filling and I ate the whole thing with pleasure--it's just...I've had much better steaks on the other side of the globe. The brownie was absolutely the highlight of the meal for me, as it had a hint of orange flavor. My most favorite version of chocolate is dark chocolate with orange, so this is my idea of the most perfect brownie under heaven.

This is the same restaurant where the resort's breakfast is served, buffet-style, and Angel and I were delighted with the amazing selection of foods--freshly made roti canai, omelets, and fruit juice. Bars for soup noodles and nasi lemak with all the toppings. There was also all manner of Western breakfast selections--yogurt with toppings, cereals, breads, waffles, pancakes, and pastries.

Chapman's Bar

This lunch restaurant faces Emerald Bay, and we ate here on our second day. Angel again opted for a burger and ice cream (predictable!) while I ordered a salad and beef curry with chapati--everything was perfectly delicious. I should mention, that the prices at all the restaurants at the resort seem very high--particularly to those of us used to delicious Malaysian food at very low prices in our hometown. Most of the entrees are in the $15-25 range each if we're talking USD, which I recognize is probably reasonable for a 5-star resort on a remote island--but is still pricey for us. If we hadn't been on the Resident's Package we probably would have gone the route of splitting entrees and bringing along snacks in our backpacks. As it was, with the package, we didn't worry about prices at all and just enjoyed the meals immensely.

Uncle Lim's Kitchen

This is more of a traditional Chinese restaurant, where the dishes are served family style and accompanied with white rice. Under our package, we were surprised to find we could order 3 mains and 2 desserts--we got the Calamansi Chicken, Sizzling Beef, and Bok Choy with beef. All of them were absolutely delicious. Seafood is probably the much more popoular realm of dishes at this restaurant, as that's what it's famous for, but I don't eat seafood at all and I was very pleased that they had so many non-seafood options! For dessert, I got the banana fritter (a traditional dessert here, one that I have fond feelings for since my early teen years), and Angel got the mango pudding. We each thought our own dessert was delicious, although I don't like mangos at all and Angel does not like the idea of a fried banana. To each their own!

The Straits

This is a bit of a cheat, because we didn't really get to try The Straits restaurant--at least not their dinner meal. But when we were going to breakfast on the second day, the staff told us that they were opening up the Straits for seating during breakfast, and we were able to eat our meal in a cozy, private nook inside the very elegant restaurant. They had a breakfast bar set up inside the restaurant, but you could also walk back over to Feast Village to grab anything you wanted from the buffet. I was very happy that we got to try out this venue although not their menu in particular, the location was very nice!

The Service

Absolutely fantastic. Granted, it's not like I have high expectations of customer service--but the fact that a resort can sell you on a package costing 900RM a night and make you feel like you got a good deal really says something about the experience they provide.

It feels like the staff hardly let you do anything for yourself--they always open up the door of the shuttle for you to board or get off, they hand you an umbrella instead of making you walk 10 feet to go get one for yourself. I was carrying a bowl of soup to my table for breakfast, and a waiter came and carried it back to the table for me. Even the example of opening up The Straits restaurant for breakfast seating is an example of great service--this was Saturday morning at about 9 a.m., and the normal breakfast restaurant was busy, although by no means full. The resort could have squeezed everybody into the one restaurant, I did spot a number of open tables, but opening up the second restaurant gave guests a quieter and more special breakfast experience than we would have had if we were all seated in the one restaurant. A pretty awesome choice as far as customer service is concerned. We felt like we could hardly say thank you enough for all the top-notch service we received.

I put together a short video of some of our favorite parts of the island--watch if you want to hear my odd/constantly excited narration voice:


Budget travel is much more my comfort zone, but in spite of the price, I have no reservations whatsoever about recommending this resort to anyone. We had so much fun and made memories that we'll get to cherish for all the years to come!
04 December 2016

Minimalist Christmas Decor for Apartment Living

Warning: This post will involve taping things to walls. Time may pass and the world may change but Rachel remains the same.

Since moving abroad, our home size has shrunk tremendously, but we've adjusted to living in small-but-efficient apartments and have become comfortable with the limited amounts of storage space they offer. Seasonal decor is just one of those things that isn't very practical to invest in and store all year long when your storage space is limited.

Every year, I make some sort of advent calendar involving surprise activities or little treats--this time I made a different calendar than ever before (usually I just tape it to the wall). I raided my Mom's stash of paper bags and came up with this:

I also spent a total of 16 RM (less than $4), investing in a garland and sparkly blue ornaments to spruce up the top of the bookshelf and to me, it looks like festive perfection.

I made a banner and, yep, taped it to the wall. It's too long, so really hard to take a photo of.

More of the countdown! All the bags are sealed with tape and tamper-proof so that Angel won't get any ideas...

Now this is really cool. My sisters complain every year about how their neglectful parents don't even own a Christmas tree for them to set up. This year, the teenagers took matters into their own hands, expanding on the wall-tree I made for them last year, went out to buy ribbon and lights, and created this 8 ft. beauty on the wall. More ornaments will be added, they wanted to give each family member the opportunity to design their own balls decorated with gold glitter.

I'm pretty excited about how we have made our apartments a little more festive without spending much money or acquiring too many things that have to sit in storage most of the year. Sure, we'd love actual 3D Christmas trees, I mean, nothing beats the real thing--but some seasons of life require fewer luxuries like those than others. How do you decorate when you don't have a lot of space to work with?