In January I added a new addition to my pond. I build an upper pond, and it flows down a waterfall, into a small pool, and then into another small pond, that empties into the big pond.
I also built a little fisherman’s hut to hide the pumps and piping in the pond. It’s styled after local Malay architecture. There I sat, night after night, cutting and fitting and painting and varnishing. I took quite a while, and definitely “kept me off the streets” (hehe). It was fun, and catered to that more creative and architectural side of me.
The end of January also brought this year’s Tour de Langkawi—the local version of the Tour de France. The drive to the start of that day’s stage was beautiful, up to a little town (kampong) in the hills called Kuala Pilah. I just got drenched! The rain was intense, and took some of the fun out of it, I’ve got to admit.
Anuar Manan--local cycling hero
In February I went home for 3 weeks to be with Jessica, who had surgery. And I was there, and did my best to be loving, supportive and helpful. But despite all the reassurances I’d gotten about how common place this is, and how much benefit there is, I was freaking out. Oh, I told myself that it’s not me who’s having this done, but I was really emotional about it. Really terrified. Maybe it’s because surgery puts us smack in the face of mortality--not my own, but that of someone I love. She might have died. Or maybe it’s because I dread seeing someone so special in that initial recovery period—the wan, jaundiced looking face, the slowness, the obvious pain. Or maybe because I feel so darned helpless in the face of circumstances. But all those fears and worries, that I thought would swallow me up at the time, seem a distant memory now. After a week I knew she would be fine. She lay in bed, issuing orders and making decisions—the Captain was back at the helm! And when you get right down to it, modern medicine is a miracle! Things went really well, and she’s doing great. She went back to work 3 weeks to the day after the procedure.
THE HEALING POWER OF CATS!
Portland provided a real smorgasbord of weather: sun, rain, snow, and bitter cold. And on the nice days, I managed to sneak in a couple of excellent bike rides! While I was home we got the ball rolling on refinancing the house, and I went to a volleyball tournament with Claire, and celebrated Sophie’s 13th birthday. I spent time with the kids and Jessica, and boy, it really drove home the message that I miss life in Portland.
And then it was back to Malaysia, back to work. My driver, Azreen, had done a great job to taking care of the fish. The water was a little green, but no big deal. So I set about cleaning up the water, doing a real thorough job of it. And by the next morning, things were looking quite nice, and the fish seemed happy.
The next day was quite a day. I spent 2 ½ hours trying to get some traveler’s checks, so I could pay the car service. I had to go to 4 banks. It looked like it was going to happen at the last one, but then they wanted cash for the traveler’s checks. If I had the cash, I wouldn’t need the traveler’s checks. I had planned to pay with a credit card, but the car service doesn’t take credit cards. But in the end of that driving-and-waiting-and-almost-but-not-quite day, I did learn how to get a cash advance on my credit card. But then woman who runs that department was, you guessed it, out to lunch. Ahhh! So I had to go back the next day. And on the next day, things went just fine. Somehow, money in Malaysia has been an endless hassle. Cash is king, that’s for sure. But when your cash is in a bank in the US—a bank that doesn’t have financial ties to Malaysia (owing to a Malaysian history of fraud)—it’s a real pain to get at that cash. Next time, I’ll open an account at some big multi-national bank! It was a tiresome day…
Then when I got home, nearly all my fish were dead. It was heartbreaking. There must have been a hundred dead fish floating in the pond. And to this day, I don’t know what it was I did. But it really worked. So I spent a long time fishing out dead fish, and trying to catch the few live ones so I could put them in a bucket of water while I drained the pond. The dead fish were unceremoniously bagged in plastic and put in the trash can, the pond was refilled, and the few remaining fish seemed to be doing ok. It takes about 2 hours to fill the pond, by the way.
While the pond refilled, I continued working on the rebuild of the “addition” to the pond. I had “finished” it before I went home, but it seemed to be leaking, and I didn’t trust it, so I took out the fish and “shut it down” until I got back. So there I was lugging rocks and restacking them, trying to improve what I’d started over a month ago.
Finally, I ended up with the little pond a little lower (it was too tall to see into) and instead of a cascade of small pools down to the big pond, a stream the meanders it’s way to the big pond. And it’s nice. And it doesn’t leak! Yee haw!
In all honesty, I think I get more enjoyment out of building the ponds than I do out of them after they’re finished.
First Addition--the leaker! Rebuilt addition--the stream
Especially when, after all seemed well with the pond, and after buying more new fish, I woke up to a sea of dead bodies—again! The morning before I woke up and a few (4 maybe) fish had died, and the others didn’t seemed interested in eating (a bad sign for the perpetually hungry monsters) and a couple looked a little sick. Well, bad went to worse in no time. This was getting old, and even with the price of fish in Malaysia, it was getting expensive! So I cleaned out all the poor dead babies, went to my favorite store, had them test the water, bought a bunch of additives, emptied the pond and filled it again.
In the long run I learned that really clean water is just as bad as really dirty water. Every time I drained the pond, I’d fill it. And I’d use anti-chlorine to treat the tap water, but all the bacteria and the enzymes that make up the “soup” that fish actually thrive in were missing. So I put in additives, and waited, and finally started buy more fish, and everything seems to be back to normal.
At least, and at last, all is well on the “fish front.”
Work has been trying. Tho my job doesn’t feel like a career right now, and doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere, at least I have a job. I remind myself this current economy is the worst since the Great Depression. A lot of people are out of work, on reduced hours, or working in some menial and meaningless job just to get by. I have been doing what I know how to do, and getting paid for it. And I try to keep it in perspective. Try to be grateful.
But when left to my own devices, and spending too much time in my own head, it seems that all this time away from my family, lonely and often miserable, working in a often times difficult environment is a bad thing. But I have stayed employed, and that’s what a man has to do for his family, and in fact I’ve made more money than usual. I’ve had the opportunity to take the family to Malaysia and Mexico, and take Jessica to Thailand. I’ve seen Angkor Wat and Borobudur. I’ve spent time in KL and Singapore, and visited Penang and Langkawi and Tioman. I’ve taken up mountain biking and lost over 40 pounds. I’ve built 2 fish ponds, made new friends, and (despite my own interpretation of things) have even been told that I’ve done a good job. Those are not bad things at all. And really, work is going ok—seems to be less pressure these days, as all the changes SPWR is making has moved pressure onto the design team, which is being done in Manila.
So, with all that, I got to go to Manila for about a week and a half. The Philippines is kinda "The Wild, Wild, West." Traffic is insane: Jeepney’s everywhere, 4 lines of traffic on 2 lane roads, and crossing the street is a high-risk undertaking. There are power lines strung like strands of spaghetti drying in the sun, rusted tin shacks butted up against glimmering white malls, and people everywhere.
The guys I was working with party like rock stars, and I moved passed that stage some time ago, so I felt a little like an outsider. I just don’t get the thrill of hanging out in bars until all hours any more. But the work went well, and was fairly productive. I also did some shopping for Jessica at the local “knock-off mall,” toured Manila a little bit, and ate way too much. Not sobad at all!
So that’s the update from the last couple of months. Life is good in Malaysia!