Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Penang's Loy Krathong Festival plus bonus bloopers

Penang's Loy Krathong festival


Last Saturday, Penang's two Thai Buddhist temples celebrated Loy Krathong. Loy means "to float," and krathong are lotus-shaped vessels. It's traditionally held to thank the Water Goddess during the full moon of the twelfth month in the Thai lunar calendar when the water level is high and the climate is cooler. Penang's celebration was a few days early to enable more people to participate. The evening began with a cultural show and praying ceremony led by monks at Wat Chaiya Mangalaram, more commonly referred to as The Reclining Buddha Temple. From there, a procession made its way to the shoreline along Gurney Drive. About a thousand devotees released candle-lit krathongs, setting them adrift and letting the vessels carry away their troubles. In so many ways, it was exactly as I had hoped -- magical, mystical and a visual delight.

Earlier in the week, I took a break from Thanksgiving Day preparations to visit the temple since finding information on-line was impossible. Many colorful krathong were already for sale. I hoped to find something traditional made out of banana leaves, but all they had were ones with styrofoam bases and synthetic petals.

Krathong for sale at the Reclining Buddha Temple

The night of the festival, I heard chanting, drumming and singing as I approached the temple. Entering through the gate, a massive crowd greeted me, lining up to follow the floats to the beach. After gathering my krathong, I fell in step with the procession, marveling at how the street I had just driven down was now completely blocked with people.

Drummers getting ready to lead the procession

Young ladies riding the float from the temple to Gurney Drive.

When we reached Gurney drive, a mere 600 meters away, everyone flowed to the one break in the wall where steps led down to the beach. Hundreds of flickering krathongs were already floating out to sea. I heard one girl cry out excitedly, "They're headed to the mainland, mommy!" We spread out along the shore, wading into the water to release our own krathongs.

On the beach, devotees brought along the unclaimed krathong from the temple. They quickly lit the candles and joss sticks before casting them into the water.

Lighting the krathong

Oh, the variety of vessels. Most of them were fairly simple like mine. But others had towering tiers like a wedding cake or LED lights running around the bottom. Others were so big that two people had to carry them. The most impressive one was a golden, elaborately carved, ancient Siamese boat with a dragon masthead. Instead of merely floating in the water, this one was loaded onto a boat and carried out to sea.

This special krathong went out via boat.

If only this is where the story ends. But it doesn't. The rest of the night seemed like the bloopers reel at the end credits of a serious movie.

Picture yourself solemnly lowering your krathong and releasing it into the water. Now imagine a wave washing it right back between your legs, overturning it and extinguishing the flames. That's what happened to me. It was happening to everybody. The more experienced folks would swish their hands in the water to get their krathong to catch an outgoing wave.

Some of the vessels just looped around towards the storm drain pipes right next to the beach. If releasing the krathong is supposed to cast away your sins and bad fortune, what does it mean if it refuses to leave?


The krathong that escaped picturesquely floated out towards the shipping lane before being swept back towards the island, carried by the currents or perhaps the wake of the passing cruise boat. I could see their flickering lights congregating about a kilometer down the shore.

The big, gorgeous krathong that I recently admired ended up bursting into flames shortly after it was released. It was quite a pyrotechnic float.

Before and After

As the crowds began to disperse, one family with an array of krathong arrived and strolled to the water. The photographers gathered around them, wading into the straits to get a good shot. The family was very cooperative, following the instructions of one particularly demanding man. At first they posed, standing with the krathongs held so the candles' glow lit up their faces. Then they were asked to gradually lower them almost into the water. Now freeze! As they stood there half crouched...snap, snap, snap... photographers took a few pictures. Now stand up a little more. Now back down again. They finally released their krathong only to have them immediately washed back into their hands. The photographers seized on this as another chance to take a series of more posed photos. I turned away before they were done. They were good sports about it all.

Posing for the Loy Krathong paparazzi

By that time, my pants were soaked from the waves, and my sports sandals refused to let go of the gravelly sand rubbing up against my feet. It was time to go. I wonder if my krathong escaped being pulled back to shore. Perhaps it will wash up in Singapore where they will find my name on the krathong and fine me for littering.

Related Post:
Thai and Myannar New Years Water Festival

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vote for me at the Expats Blog Awards

UPDATE: Thank you so much to everyone who voted. Malaysian Meanders took Honourable Mention at the Expats Blog Awards 2012. If you live in Malaysia, especially Kuala Lumpur, you should take some time to read The Yum List which took 1st place. It covers the best places to eat, drink, stay and spa. It only includes spots that are worth the visit because time is too precious to waste on average food and experiences.

I am both surprised and honored to find out that someone nominated me for an Expats Blog Award. At first, I thought that I'd easily win the Malaysia category since I was the only blog listed. I thought it was a slam dunk. However, they seem to have found a few other blogs in the last few weeks. I no longer stand alone.

If you enjoy my blog and have found it helpful, please vote for me. The judging is largely based on public opinion, so every nice review or comment helps. Just click through below.

Fill in your info and comments in the form
If you are one of the strangers that I've met at Starbucks during your exploratory visit to answer your questions about moving to Penang, please vote for me. Same goes for those whose messages I've answered on Facebook.
Most of all, thank you so much for reading my blog and helping me with my mission to share what a wonderful, exciting place Penang is for an expat to live or a world traveler to explore.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

One Thousand Gifts

Last year, my older son's teacher assigned each student to come up with a list of One Thousand Gifts. No, not a Christmas wish list. Inspired by the book by Ann Voskamp, the teacher asked for a list of one thousand things to be grateful for. One thousand! I can easily rattle off 30 items I'm thankful for, one item for each day in November. With a tiny bit more work, I can probably crank the list up to 100. But 1000 is a lot. To come up with 1000, you have to dig really deep. It took the entire school year to compile.

My son started off easy, listing "All fifty states" as one line item (#64) followed by each state named individually in alphabetical order. But eventually, he uncovered a depth of gratitude that I didn't know existed inside him. It was like a tween's journal but with absolutely no angst, just sunshine and happiness. This lesson entered his life at a good time. Like many coming of age stories, my boy was beginning to leave that childlike sense of wonder behind him and become aware of the realities of the world. Seeking 1000 gifts focused his gaze on the realities that are good and beautiful instead of the ones that make you lose faith. So with his permission, here are a few of those gifts, mostly travel related.

10. A sunset with an array of colors

Watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean at Kalaloch Lodge in Olympic National Park, Washington.
For all you Twilight fans, this is in Forks.

293. My brother who is a serious Pokemon fan

Making brother's dreams come true with a visit to Tokyo's Pokemon Center.

374. The countless hours of free time on an intercontinental flight.

So much in-flight entertainment, so little time on the flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong.

434. Having random thoughts of Maine when eating lobster.

The view from Thurston's Lobster Pound in Bernard, Maine where lobster boats unload traps right at the restaurant.

472. Hearing the drums banging at the dragon dance celebration

500. 500 -- exactly half of 1000 gifts -- halfway before your goal's end to make you say, "Wow, it was hard, but I managed and thought of 1000 thankful gifts."

714. Monkeys that crawl all around Malaysia and want to steal your food

Training baby monkeys on the fine art of stealing food at the Penang Botanical Garden

849. Pike's Peak where "America the Beautiful" was written

They only allowed us 40 minutes at the summit before heading back down to avert altitude sickness.

858. Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, full of hardened magma and glowing volcanoes

Devastation Trail had tiny bits of solidified lava known as Pele's hair and Pele's tears

1000. The one thousandth gift is completed. Flipping back in the book will remind me of all the fun I had in sixth grade.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

What blockhead made all this?

When you're an expat living overseas, the chances of going home to visit your family for Thanksgiving dinner are rather slim. On the other hand, my friend in Austin, Texas just drove 27 hours straight to Buffalo, New York for a week's visit, so perhaps it's not totally out of the question. This year, we're pulling a Peppermint Patty and inviting ourselves over to other people's homes to celebrate this American holiday in Penang.

I've always loved Thanksgiving. I jokingly tell my younger boy that he's named after the governor of Plymouth Colony, William Bradford. Moving across the ocean, I've come to understand how much the Pilgrims must have truly appreciated the Native Americans. When we first arrived, we relied heavily on the experience of others to figure out daily life in this new world. Where do you buy food? Who's a good pediatrician? How do people watch American college football? You know... important things like that. This week, a group of long-timers and newly arrived expats will gather together for a communal meal, sharing our food and reminiscing about our homeland. And just like where the Peanuts gang drives off to at the end of the show, we'll be doing it in a condominium.

What kind of meal will we end up with? Is it toast, popcorn, pretzels and jelly beans for us? After all, it's sometimes a bit hard to track down exact ingredients in Penang. This is not a place where you go to the market with a week's menu and ingredients all planned out. There's no fear of starvation, but you must remain flexible. My typical modus operandi is to purchase whatever looks fresh and then figure out later what to do with it all. I feel a bit like Alice Waters except that I have no talent in throwing together an impromptu meal.

Before we moved, I had turned into a bit of a turkey snob. I special ordered my free-range, organic, heritage turkey, dry brined it, then roasted it for the big day. Could I find a turkey here? Last week, a group of serial expats were discussing the relative ease of finding good turkeys in different countries. In summary, the ones in Egypt are awful, the Caucasus Mountains have good ones, and Afghanistan turkeys are great.

I was quite happy to come across turkey and cranberries, both fresh and canned, at Straits Minimarket. Someone else ordered a fresh turkey from Mutha's near the Tanjung Bungah Wet Market, probably slaughtered according to Halal rules. A few restaurants around town have roasted turkeys for take away, too. Last year, sweet potatoes were a bit questionable, though. Pecans are the same price as macadamia nuts, if you can find them. I actually have a stash of Texas pecans in my fridge that I brought back from my summer visit. Did the pilgrims do this? Did they hoard precious food from home and only serve it on special occassions?

So during this time when expats start to miss the families they left behind, we gather together as a makeshift family far, far away from America. Just like Charlie Brown figures out, it doesn't matter where you eat Thanksgiving dinner. Whether it's at a condo or at a doghouse, it will always be special when you share the feast with friends.

"We thank God for our homes and our food and our safety in a new land."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Taking a Taxi from Singapore to LEGOland Malaysia

Singapore-Johor cross-border taxi fare

You cannot take a regular Singapore taxi across the border to LEGOland Malaysia. Instead, you must use a cross-border taxi. So, this is what we did:

1. 5 minute local taxi ride from hotel in Clarke Quay to the Ban San Street Taxi Stand, next to the Queen Street Bus Terminal -- SGD$7

2. Cross-border taxi from Ban San Street stand to LEGOland -- SGD$70 for 3 adults and 2 kids
  • 40 minute ride to Woodlands checkpoint, driving against rush hour traffic
  • 5 minutes to stamp passports for exiting Singapore
  • Drive across causeway into Malaysia
  • 10 minutes at Malaysian immigration
  • 25 minute ride from immigration directly to LEGOland
  • Note: The concierge told us we'd have to transfer to a local Malaysian taxi after crossing the border, but our driver was willing to take us all the way to LEGOland.
We asked the driver to come back at 6:30 p.m. (half an hour after closing that day) to bring us back for another SGD$70. Joy of joys! I must have tipped him enough because he was waiting for us when we exited after a long day of fun. I didn't see many other taxis queueing up, so I am very glad that we had one booked.  He drove us 90 minutes back to Ban San Street where we had to transer to a local Singapore taxi to get back to the hotel.

Round trip, it ended up being SGD$154. We had door-to-door service and much more flexibility with when we wanted to depart and return than if we had taken a shuttle bus or tour bus.

Singapore Flyer - LEGOland Round-trip Shuttle
WTS Travel offers on-line booking and payment for their shuttle bus. In Low Season, there are 4 departures/returns each day. In Peak Season, there are 5 departures/returns per day. One way trips from Singapore to LEGOland are also an option. You must choose your times when booking.

Packages include the transportation only or one or both LEGOland parks plus transportation. Depending on the season, prices range from SGD$20-30 per person for round-trip transportation only. They sometimes have discounts on park admission. WTS accepts PayPal for the payment. Book at least a week early as the buses fill up. I have not tried this service myself but am keeping it in mind for our next trip. Click here to make a booking. The company also has a shuttle from Singapore to Hello Kitty Town/ Little Big Club in Johor.

Finally reaching LEGOland Malaysia.

Related Posts:
Building a Day of Fun at LEGOland Malaysia
Asian Landmarks at LEGOland Malaysia Miniland
Flashback to LEGOland California

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Building a Day of Fun at LEGOland Malaysia

When we first told the kids we were moving from Texas to Malaysia, we dangled a visit to LEGOland Malaysia, in front of them as enticement. A couple weeks ago, we finally delivered on our promise, and oh, what fun we had! We've visited the California location of LEGOland a few times, and the newly opened Malaysian park is very similar to that one. The only significant differences are the smaller size and the Asian spin on landmarks in Miniland. To me, the similarities are a great indication that these rides and concepts have already been proven successful in other parts of the world. Located in Johor, just across the border from Singapore, LEGOland is perfect for children ages 2-12 years old. Its over 40 attractions include rides, shows, playground areas and hands-on fun with LEGO bricks.

Hold on tight on Project X through the switchbacks and big plunge.

Fun Rides are the Main Attraction
LEGOland has everything from the DUPLO Express train perfect for toddlers to medium-thrill roller coasters and flume rides for older children. (If your kids really want high thrill and fast speeds, Universal Studios Singapore may be better suited for them.) 

Preschoolers chug around Playtown on the LEGO Express.

The Driving School in LEGO City lets kids ages 6-13 years old motor cars through a street course complete with intersections, traffic lights, a roundabout, and two-way traffic. You don't see that at most theme parks! Children as young as 2 years can try out the simpler Junior Driving School.

Kids rule the road at Driving School.

At Kid Power Towers, pull your chair up hand-over-hand 9 metres to the top of the tower and then gently glide back down to the ground.

How high can you go before time is up on Kid Power Towers? Don't worry adults, you can try, too.

Hit targets with your laser gun to score points while riding through the ancient Egypt-themed Lost Kingdom of Adventure.

Amusement park ride and arcade game in one at Lost Kingdom of Adventure.

There are tons more rides at LEGOland. These are just a few of them.

Hands-on Building with LEGO bricks
When you've had enough of the heat or need to escape the rain, head indoors to one of the building centers. For children older than 8 years, be sure to try LEGO Mindstorms where they can build a robot and do easy, graphical, computer programming to complete missions. Be sure to go by and make your reservation early because the six 45-minute sessions with 8 spots each fill up quickly. If they're too young, you can always get a brick kit and building diagram without any reservations needed.

Satisfy the emerging engineer at LEGO Mindstorms.

At Build & Test, kids can try their hand at building race cars or earthquake-proof structures. Challenge other cars on the sloped racing ramp to see whose is the fastest. Make a skyscraper on a shaking platform, go from 0 to 10 on the Richter Scale, and see if yours is still standing at the end.

One nice touch at a few queue areas is the LEGO table where kids can occupy themselves while parents keep their place in line.

Watch Live Action and 4D Shows
The LEGO Studios 4D Theatre rotates through 3 movies. What's a 4D movie? You wear 3D glasses to watch the film and enjoy the added physical special effects like blowing wind, flashing lights, and in the case of LEGO Racers, falling snow. If you really care about which exact movie you watch, get there 20 minutes before showtime. We didn't have a chance to watch the live action shows at LEGO City Stage, but the pictures made them look entertaining.

Run around the Playground
Perhaps your kids are tired of waiting in queues or building things. Let them burn off some energy at the playgrounds located around the park. DUPLO Playtown is ideal for the youngest visitors. The Shipyard and The Forestman's Hideout are aimed at the older ones. Pharoah's Revenge has lots of ball-popping fun.

Kids run while mamma rests at The Forestman's Hideout in LEGO Kingdom.

The miniature 1:20 scale replicas of Asian landmarks built out of LEGO bricks is the centerpiece of the park. Take your time strolling around and look carefully. The designers sneak in clever little scenarios and tableaux. Push buttons and watch the action start, but be careful if you're standing in a puddle. You'll probably be squirted with water. See my Miniland post for highlights.

Angkor Wat LEGO-style

Details and Tips
What else do you need to know?
  • We were there from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (opening to closing times) and still didn't have a chance to try out everything on a medium-size crowd day. Estimated queue times ranged from 15-60 minutes.
  • Keep in mind how hot it can be, so bring a hat or even an umbrella which can provide both shade and rain protection. Queueing areas are covered, but you'll be in the sun when walking around.
  • Rides close 1 hour before closing time. Miniland remains open until the end of the day.
  • Don't forget comfy shoes because you'll be on your feet all day.
  • Either bring your own stroller or rent one just inside the entrance for the younger kids.  
  • Some rides have height requirements (at least 110 cm on many rides) or age limits.
  • Restaurants around the park offer both Asian and Western halal-certified fare.
  • Numerous restaurants are just outside the main entrance if you get there early or linger after closing.
  • Both Malaysian Ringgits and Singapore Dollars are accepted in the park as payment.
  • Two prayer rooms and a Baby Care Center are located within LEGOland.
  • Of course, you have lots of opportunities to buy LEGOs toys here. It's definitely a much, much bigger selection than at Toys'R'Us.
  • See my post about how we took a taxi from Singapore to LEGOland
Push the button and activate the geyser on AquaZone Wave Racers.

Looking towards the future
A LEGOland Waterpark is scheduled to open next door on October 21, 2013, and a hotel is currently under construction. If we lived near the park, I could see us buying an Annual Pass.

I have seen many on-line complaints about the heat and the no-refund-due-to-rain policy at LEGOland. These people need to understand that this is standard theme park operations all around the world. I've been in near-typhoon conditions at Tokyo DisneySea, and they didn't refund money. I spent my childhood summers in Houston, Texas at the equally hot-and-humid-with-bouts-of-rain Six Flags Astroworld and managed to endure it. That's what Walt Disney World in Florida is like in July, too. I've had to keep track of my kids in a sea of identical Shamu gift shop raincoats at SeaWorld. My advice to these complainer is to just deal with it. If the grand daddy of theme parks, Disney, doesn't make allowances, I don't expect LEGOland to.

However, there is room for improvement to make this a truly top-notch park. Some rides weren't operational while we were there, and I've heard of a few stopping with guests still on them. Restaurant tables weren't cleared quickly. Bathrooms that were clean and fresh in the morning were stinky and lacking toilet paper by the end of the day. We waited at the ticket booth for 40 minutes, because only 2 were open. At one point, both were at a standstill waiting for the supervisor to help. Hiring more people or better training could easily solve many problems, so I hope LEGOland will take steps to remedy them. Despite these complaints, I would still happily recommend LEGOland to families with children 12 years old and under.

Related Posts
Asian Landmarks at LEGOland Malaysia Miniland
Taking a Taxi from Singapore to LEGOland Malaysia
Flashback to LEGOland California
Universal Studios Singapore

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

FamiliesGo! Borneo Family Vacation

My boy with a blowgun. That Pepsi can never even saw it coming.

Head on over to FamiliesGo! and check out my guest post on Borneo Family Vacation: Wild Animals, Mild Adventure. The exotic island of Borneo, the setting of the first season of Survivor, has so much to offer from visiting orangutans to visiting headhunters, trekking the jungle to cruising the river.  With kids in tow, we wanted something exciting, but nothing worthy of a reality TV show, be it Survivor or Super Nanny. My guest post covers what to do, where to stay, and what to eat.

While you're at FamiliesGo!, explore the rest of the website. With destination guides, hotel reviews, deals, giveaways and travel tips, it's a wonderful, one-stop resource for taking the hassle out of planning family vacations.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Asian Landmarks at LEGOland Malaysia Miniland

What really sets LEGOland Malaysia apart from other LEGOlands around the world is its version of Miniland. Stroll among 1:20 scale replicas of architectural landmarks from all over Asia. Much of Miniland is dedicated to the host country, Malaysia, and its most famous city, Kuala Lumpur, as well as Johor Bahru where LEGOland is located. Also enjoy scenes from Singapore just across the border along with the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, China, India, Brunei and Laos.

Which one is the real Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world?
Which one is the LEGO model?

The top one is made out of LEGOs, and the bottom one is the real version in Kuala Lumpur. Impressive, isn't it? The angular lines of this building make it particularly well suited to being rendered in LEGOs. This toy structure is 9 meters tall. It wouldn't come close to fitting in my kids' playroom. Interested in finding out how LEGOland put it together? Check out this great behind-the-scenes video of the installation of the LEGO Petronas Towers.

More than 30 million LEGO bricks were carefully assembled as part of a 3 year project to create these masterpieces. How my younger son would have loved to be part of this! The first step involved taking numerous photographs of the actual landmarks and their surroundings. After that, 3D design and production took place before assembling could begin. Most of the structures were built nearby in Johor Bahru. Others were constructed in the USA, Denmark, England, Germany and the Czech Republic then shipped to Malaysia before being installed on site.

Miniland is the centerpiece of LEGOland Malaysia

The following pictures are just a small selection of the wondrous sites you'll see when you visit. Don't just look at the buildings. Be sure to pay attention to the whimsical scenes they've created with the people, trains and airplanes. A push of the button will start a figure spinning or dancing. Warning: If there's a puddle near a button, you can be sure that a spray of water will shoot out from somewhere to surprise you or a bystander.

Singapore cityscape of The Fullerton Hotel, Merloin statue by the bay, and The Singapore Flyer observation wheel

China's Forbidden City with a dragon dance in front and The Great Wall behind it

Vietnam's Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was
an important Southeast Asian trading port from the 15th to 19th centuries.

India's famous Taj Mahal

Thailand's Wat Arun in Bangkok

I think my boy is seriously considering recreating this elaborate pirate ship at home.

Miniland isn't just famous landmarks. It's everyday life as well.

Related Posts:
Building a Day of Fun at LEGOland Malaysia
Taking a Taxi from Singapore to LEGOland Malaysia
Flashback to LEGOland California

It’s Your Turn, Link Up Your Newest Travel Inspiration

I've joined up as one of the co-hosts of Weekend Travel Inspiration.
  1. Link one of your inspirational travel photos or stories to this post by adding your info.
  2. Copy and paste our badge and a link to this page.
  3. Visit some of the other wonderful travel bloggers, read their posts, and leave a comment.  It would be great if you could comment on 2-3 posts.
  4. Tweet it and include this hashtag. #wkendtravelinspiration .
  5. Follow all the hosts of Weekend Travel Inspiration who are working hard to spread the word on what wonderful work travel bloggers are doing.
  6. Don’t forget to check out my amazing co-hosts and their pages: Reflections EnrouteThe Crowded PlanetContentedTravellerAlbom AdventuresSafari 254, and FamiliesGo.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Traveler's Sandbox, Photo Friday on Delicious Baby, and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Joys of Overseas Voting

Pssst....I'll let you in on a little secret. It turns out that there's a big U.S. Presidential Election on Tuesday. Wait a minute. You already knew about it? Please excuse my confusion. See, it turns out that Obama and Romney haven't been courting the American expats in Malaysia. Actually, it's been quite nice. No signs on people's lawns, no robocalls, no headlines blasting from the newsstand and no endless coverage on TV. (Well, perhaps there's been TV coverage in Malaysia. I wouldn't know. Our TV has been stuck on the Nickelodeon channel. At first, I thought the kids were teasing me, but it turns out that it's genuinely stuck there.)

Other places like Germany have groups such as the Republicans Abroad that campaign there, but Penang has no such thing. There are a few stories buried deep in The Star newspaper here or a passing comment on the radio. With the USA being a world power, other nations are paying attention, but it's not the primary topic of discussion. (I kind of feel sorry for the expats from Liechtenstein. There's absolutely no coverage at all about what's going on in their home country.)

For the most part, I actually have to go out and seek information. None of it is pushed on me -- unless you count numerous Facebook posts attempting to swing opinion with status updates and Shares. Facebook is actually how I first heard that Romney picked Paul Ryan as a running partner and that, according to The New York Times, Ryan may or may not have run in The Frankenthon Monster Marathon in Cedar Park, Texas.

Even though I haven't lived in America for over a year, you can bet that I am still exercising my right to vote. Hey, I'm from Texas where being stuck on The International Space Station isn't an excuse to skip filling out your ballot. Three years ago, my little Austin neighborhood went all the way to the Supreme Court to challenge parts of the Voting Rights Act. Voting is important.

Why do I care? Mainly because I still pay taxes. No taxation without representation for me! Plus, I plan on returning to my Texas home one day and know that this week's results, from the President down to the local school board, will determine what alternate universe I land in. There's also that whole foreign policy bit. When you live overseas like I do, you pay close attention to which countries are on the rampage against Americans.

My vote is my chance to cancel out the choices of someone who is diametrically opposed to my mindset. If I don't vote, I just cancel out myself.

Americans overseas could determine who is the next President.

Imagine that the race is neck-and-neck. The polls on American soil close at the end of Election Day, those votes are tallied, and it's still a tie. What then? If you are voting from overseas, you have until Election Day to place your ballot in the mail. That ballot can take as long as 5 days after Election Day to reach the election office and still be counted. 5 days!!  (Those are the Texas rules. You should check with your own state whose deadline is probably different.) Those last minute, expat ballots must be counted before the results are certified. They are the ones who make a difference in a close race.

If it's still Election Day, there's still time for expats to register and vote.

Voting from overseas is simple, especially when you compare it to the time I had to drive to 4 different polling places in Austin, Texas to cast my vote because all the races weren't on the same ballot. The Federal Voting Assistance Program and Overseas Vote Foundation websites are set up to provide voting help for both the military and private U.S. citizens living overseas. In fact, if you haven't registered, it may not be too late. Just go to one of the above websites to register and request a ballot. Then, fill out the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot.  This write-in ballot also works for those who have already registered but haven't received their ballot. Depending on your state, you can return it by mail, email, fax or private courier service. For most states, you must re-register every year. If, by some miracle, you are actually at your American address on election day, you can still vote at the polls and cancel the ballot that was mailed to you.

Please do not expect to walk into your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate to vote there. I don't know how many people do this, but the one in Kuala Lumpur specifically sent out an email to tell Americans that it is not a polling place.

Hubby and I registered ages ago and received our ballots via email. We must have registered on different sites because my ballot included local elections down to school board and City of Austin propositions whereas his was just for the federal ones. I think he used one of the websites mentioned above, and I perhaps contacted my local elections office.

When the polls close on Tuesday night, it will be Wednesday morning here in Penang. I'll take the kids to school, and then, it's off to an Election Watch Party. In broad daylight, we'll sit there watching which states light up red and which ones go blue halfway around the world. We may live in Malaysia, but we're still Americans.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Flashback to LEGOland California

Last week, we spent time at the newly opened LEGOland Malaysia. This had me reminiscing about our previous trips to LEGOland California back in 2004 and 2009. There's no pictures for me to show you from the 2004 trip. The prints are in storage back in Texas in their cellophane-sleeve photo album, and the negatives are back there, too. Eight years ago, I thought my film camera was superior to my digital one. Remember those days of bringing extra rolls of film (24 exposures or 36?) to an amusement park so you didn't have to pay exorbitant gift shop prices when you ran out? Remember being locked into the same film speed for the whole roll? Remember having to choose your shots carefully because you couldn't just delete them? Post 9/11, I was worried that the airport X-ray machines would ruin my film, so I'd develop them at the 1-hour photo processor before our flight home. Goodness sakes... I'm glad I've moved on to digital.

So sit back and enjoy my favorite pictures from our 2009 trip.

Latching on to another family

What's really under Darth Vader's cape

We call this guy Lolo. His identical twin brother is taking a nap in LEGOland Malaysia.

You won't find Bob the Builder in LEGOland Malaysia, though.
He's got his own park there with his HIT Entertainment friends at Puteri Harbour Theme Park .

Apparently, I've been fascinated with public toilets for years. This one is at Miniland Grand Central Station.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Traveler's Sandbox. Check it out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.
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