Macau and Mainland China

Our vacation was over, so it was time to head back to the tour.  Our next stop, Macau.  Known as the Vegas of Asia. I was quite looking forward to this city.  It was about an hour ferry ride from Hong Kong and only ten minutes in a taxi to our hotel.

The hotel was very swanky.  It was part of the Contai Sands Resort, which was connected to the Venetian, where Shrek was performing.  You didn’t need to see sunlight on the ten minute walk through the malls from the hotel to the theatre.  The malls were lined with very high end shops and restaurants.

We would be staying in Macau for three weeks. Since we crammed so much into Hong Kong we decided to relax by the pool, then head to the theatre for tech in the evening.  The next few days had a busy work schedule. Press, opening night and double show days at the weekend.

There wasn’t really a lot to see in Macau apart from casinos  and night life. Of course, neither of these would be of interest to Olivia and Eliana, so three weeks did seem like too long in this city. Also, our per diem was given to us in credit which could only be used within the Sands/Venetian resort and only at restaurants on a provided list.  There were only two restaurants on the list the girls would eat at.  One of them would use our entire day per diem for one meal.  We ended up ordering a lot of room service. After spending so much money in Hong Kong and Thailand on our vacation, I didn’t want to venture out too much.

Our schedule in Macau was pretty easy once we were through the opening and first weekend.  Tuesday – Friday evenings, Saturday and Sunday both matinee and evening performances.

We spent our Monday off visiting the Ruins of St Paul and the Historical town.  It was nice to walk around, but really hot.

In the evening we went to see The House of Dancing Water.  This was the highlight of Macau and I’m sure will be what the girls will talk about in years to come.  I’ve never seen anything like it. A water show with divers diving from ridiculous heights, acrobatics, motorcycles, circus acts, dance, and music.  You have to see it to believe it.  As if watching this show wasn’t spectacular enough, we were given a backstage tour, so we could get a glimpse of how the production happens.  It was worth going to Macau for this show alone!

After what seemed like quite a long three weeks, we were on to our next city.  The first of two in mainland China, Guangzhou.

Guangzhou is only a couple of hours from Macau, but you have to pass through Chinese immigration to get there.  We had to walk quite a distance from where the bus dropped us for the immigration terminal. Draging large suitcases, kids in tow and the heat, it was really difficult.  We waited in the long immigration line and faced another long walk to the next bus once though. The journey took about five hours in total.

Our hotel in Guangzhou was really nice. The check in process was the fastest we had seen yet.  The friendly staff were organized with our room keys when we arrived.  We were given two rooms, actually suites,  in this hotel.  They were next to each other, but they didn’t join.  The girls loved it.  They kept calling me on the phone every couple of minutes.  It was so good to watch TV at night once the kids had gone to bed. A luxury I’d lived without for a few months.

Guangzhou was very different from how I imagined it.  The third largest city in China, it looked like any other major US city, but without Westerners.   I was expecting it to be old and to appear as one big China town.

We didn’t get any time for sightseeing in Guangzhou.  We only had one full day off, but Olivia was needed for press events.

 

There was no shortage of good food. We ate almost all Japanese and hot pot. The hotel was about 15 minutes from the theatre, but both areas had good restaurants and were really nice to walk around.

I would like to have spent a little more time exploring the city, but we were really getting quite homesick knowing that we only had one more week with one more city to go!

Our final city was Xiamen, located on the Southeast coast of China.  It’s a popular tourist destination for the Chinese.

We took two trains to Xiamen.  The train station was large, modern and clean with exception of the toilets which smelt so bad I almost threw up.  I didn’t drink for the rest of the day just so I didn’t have to use a toilet again.

We arrived at our hotel in Xiamen around 9pm.  Everyone was so hungry. We hadn’t had a meal since our late breakfast. Just snacks during our journey.  The hotel was in a very quiet part of Xiamen, located across from the theatre, where the conference center was also situated, rather than a tourist area.  We decided to get some food at the restaurant in the hotel.  It was hard even getting a menu, they just didn’t speak English.  Even when we pointed at the items on the menu, we really didn’t know if we would get what we asked for. It was a complete disaster. We were all very cranky and forty five minutes later we hadn’t even received our drinks.  Other cast members were having the same problem and left, but we waited it out.  We all needed to eat and there were no other options locally.

The following morning we went to the local mall where there was a supermarket to stock up on snacks for after the evening performances.  I didn’t want to get caught out again. The mall was also really quiet. I’m not sure where all the people were, but it had a couple of nice restaurants and a Pappa John’s. Pizza had never tasted so good!

Our final sightseeing trip of the tour was to the Nanputuo Temple.  I really enjoyed walking around this ancient temple, but climbing more steps in heat was really getting to be too much for the girls.

The hardest part of the tour in Macau and mainland China was the attention we received.  It could get really uncomfortable in elevators where people would actually point at us, not even trying to pretend they weren’t talking about us.  It wasn’t that people knew Olivia was in a show. They’re just not used to seeing people with blonde hair. They just wanted to touch the girls and take photos with them everywhere we went. Olivia didn’t mind it so much, but Eliana really did. Strange since Eliana is the “watch me, watch me” child. She only wants it under her own conditions. Olivia on the other hand, was very gracious once I explained the reason behind it, she said she was an ambassador for the blondes.

At the Temple we were constantly being stopped and asked for pictures.  By this time even Olivia had enough, so we politely declined posing for pictures with anyone.

It was the day before the final performances. Alex, the Stage Manager had arranged for Eliana to play Grumpy in the Matinee performance on the last day, but Eliana didn’t know.  She came to our dressing room with Christian (Farquad) and the Grumpy costume to ask Eliana if she would like to go on.  Eliana was so excited.  I nearly cried. It was the perfect way for this tour to end.

 

After watching every performance from the wings, Eliana was about to go on.  She was so nervous, but she loved it so much. She asked if she could go on for the final performance too. Alex said yes.

The Shrek International Tour took it’s final bow.  Over eight months, one hundred and thirty six performances in eleven cities. Istanbul, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Macau, Guangzhou and Xiamen. It was time to go home.  All that stood in the way of us and NYC was the thirty six hour journey to get there.  What an incredible adventure it had been!

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Lay Off Vacation: Hong Kong

I didn’t intend to write about our lay off time since it was our vacation.  We spent the first week with our family relaxing by the pool in Pattaya, Thailand, and the second week in Hong Kong.  We saw so much that I really felt I needed to share our experiences.

I had always wanted to visit Hong Kong.  Our following city would be Macau, so it made sense to grab this opportunity since Macau was only a short boat ride from Hong Kong.

The flight into Hong Kong was a beautiful sight as both the city and mountains came into view.  It was instantly my favorite image from a plane.  The airport was modern and just seemed to sparkle clean in comparison to the one in Bangkok.  As we walked through immigration, they checked the girls’ temperature. We had never seen that happen before.

Our hotel was on the shore of the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour.  It was a wonderful hotel with the largest bed we had ever seen. I think it was the equivalent of two king size beds together.  We could easily lose each other.

The head carpenter from the first part of the tour, Tim, lived in Hong Kong within blocks of our hotel. He had offered to show us around.  His guidance made our visit so easy. We were able to see this city traveling as a local would.  I’m sure we saw much more than we would have on our own and he seemed to love teaching us all about the city he now calls home.

Tim advised us to buy Octopus cards.  They’re used for all public transport, but you can use them for many other things too, such as shopping and even museum entrance. The public transport in Hong Kong is clean, reliable and covers the city well.  We only needed to take a couple of short taxi rides our entire time there.

The area around our hotel felt like somewhere we could live. Actually, it was very similar to where we live since we’re next to a harbor overlooking NYC. There were plenty of shops and restaurants. I was able to get the best manicure I’d had since we left the US.  There was also an awesome kids play center in the mall.  This was the only hotel we didn’t eat at.  There were just so many options close by and we really wanted to try everything authentic.

Tim and his wife, Mimi, took us to two of my favorite dining experiences.  Firstly, Chinese tea, which was Dim Sum.  When I was still living in the UK I used to go to a Dim Sum restaurant in Southend.  My favorite dish was Char Siu Cheung Fun.  I hadn’t found it in NYC, but when I explained it to Mimi she knew exactly what I meant.  When the food came, I was so happy to taste that dish again.  Olivia and Eliana really liked the dumplings which had soup in them.  They loved the experience of this restaurant, but when I asked if they would like dim sum any other time on tour they always said no.  Their favorite was easily the hot pot restaurant and from the moment they tried it, they wanted it every day!  You’re given a pot of broth, meat and vegetables.  You cook them on the stove in the middle of the table. It’s delicious and a really fun way to have a meal.

My friend Phil, who I had known since my early twenties in the UK, also currently lives in Hong Kong.  He was only home for one of the days we were there, so we met him for dinner.  He took us to a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui.  This area was not too far from our hotel. It’s the bustling center on Kowloon with lots of shopping and restaurants.  There happened to be a Smurf village on display which Eliana almost flipped over.

When Olivia was in the Sound of Music, I used to spend hours entertaining Eliana in parks while Olivia was rehearsing or performing. At that time, Smurfs 2 was in theatres. We saw that movie quite a few times and then we would search for the Smurf portal in the parks.  Obviously we never found the portal despite the hours in Central Park in the place the portal was meant to be. At least Smurfette was kind enough to send Eliana a card for her birthday. Finally, when we saw the village, Olivia and I cheered that we had found it at last. Unfortunately, Eliana is now three years older and was not falling for that at all! She loved it anyway.

Onto some of the magnificent sights we saw in Hong Kong.  First up, a trip to Lantau Island and the Big Buddha.  We took the cable car onto the island.  You have the option to upgrade to the Crystal Cabin.  I absolutely suggest doing this.  The floor is glass, so you initially feel like you’re going to drop out of it. A little thrill, but you get used to it quite quickly.  This was definitely the longest cable car ride we had been on. We  traveled over endless mountains and couldn’t have picked a more perfect day to do it. There were low clouds that sat just on top of the mountains.  It was just stunning and through the clouds appeared the Big Buddha.  It really took my breath away.

We disembarked the cable car to take a short walk to, guess what? A whole bunch of steps to the top of the Buddha! We climbed to the top and walked around the observation landing.  I can’t even put into words the feeling of awe and peace I felt being there.  Of course then there was the nerve wrecking walk down those stairs.  At the bottom we visited the Po Lin Monastery.  We each lit incense which we placed in containers thinking of our intentions. We walked around the beautiful monastery before taking the cable car ride back.

I had a small list of things I wanted to buy in Hong Kong.  Chop sticks, bowls, our name written in Chinese framed, and a Chinese dress.  Tim took us to the Stanley Market to hunt for these.  It was quite an excursion getting there.  We took the Star Ferry which goes from TST to Central. From there we hopped on a bus.  We drove through some really lovely areas.  There’s just so much variety in Hong Kong, from tall buildings to mountains to beaches.  The market was fabulous. It had everything I needed and more.  It was crazy hot, so we didn’t shop for long.

Another “must see” sight while visiting Hong Kong is The Peak.  We took the tram to the top.  You can walk, but I wouldn’t, even without kids. I’m all for killing two birds with one stone, and getting in my exercise, but that’s a bit much, especially in the heat.  The tram ride was all part of the experience too!  We’ve been to the top of quite a few tall buildings, but this was something else.  You could see the entire city in all it’s glory.

One place you probably wouldn’t get to if you only had a couple of days in Hong Kong is the Hong Kong Museum of History.  It’s definitely worth the trip.  I knew this wouldn’t be something Eliana would really enjoy, but Olivia loves learning and don’t forget, I’m still homeschooling. I had made a large part of our curriculum based on the places we were visiting.  It turned out, Eliana did in fact enjoy this museum.  It was small enough to not be overwhelming and she liked learning about where she was.

We visited another couple of markets, but Stanley was definitely our favorite.  We also saw a wet market which kinda made the girls feel a little sick. However, they had no problem eating fish in the evening. We took buses, trams, ferry’s the cable car, and the metro. We had spent five days in which we fully explored this terrific city and we loved every minute of it.  Only one day left and we would be spending it celebrating Olivia’s 10th birthday at Hong Kong Disneyland.

As I had mentioned earlier, I wanted to go to Hong Kong for such a long time.  It was at the top of my bucket list of places to go.  In my head I had planned to spend my 40th birthday there, but the girls were too young and I didn’t want to leave them to go on vacation.  My family met us in Orlando that year and we went to Disney World instead. So here we were in Hong Kong, not for my 40th, but for Olivia’s 10th at Disneyland.  Funny how things work out.

There’s a Disneyland Metro Line.  The cars have Mickey Mouse windows, so you already feel the magical buzz of Disney before you’re even there.  Hong Kong Disneyland is relatively small, so we were able to go on all the rides we wanted in eight hours and that was with taking some breaks to get out of the heat.  Olivia had a 10th birthday she will never forget and Hong Kong Disney was celebrating it’s 10th birthday too!

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Bangkok

The last time I was in Thailand was twenty one years ago. That time I only flew in and out of Bangkok and spent the rest of the time in Hua Hin, so I was seeing Bangkok for the first time.  After being in the very westernized Singapore, Bangkok felt instantly foreign to us. As we drove from the airport there was that familiar mix of  high-rise buildings and malls with old shacks on the side roads. Slightly reminding me of Jakarta.  It was evening when we arrived and pouring rain.  We would’ve probably ventured straight out to eat, but ate in one of the hotel restaurants instead.

The hotel was situated some distance from the theatre and from most of the places we would visit in Bangkok, but it was a nice hotel with a fantastic buffet breakfast and spacious rooms.

We had two days to sightsee before going to the theatre, so we took a trip out of the city to the floating market.  On the way we stopped at a sugar farm. It was interesting to see. We could walk around and look in the farmers home. I know they make some good money out of the tourists coming through, but I wonder how they look at us.

We boarded a small long boat which took us on a ride through the canals to the floating market.    Either side of the canal were homes, exactly as you would picture them.  Some really not much more than a hut, with clothes hanging out to dry and the occasional person sitting outside watching the boats go by.  I find it so hard to imagine what their lives are like. So different from ours. Simple in the materialistic sense, but I would think very hard.

Once we reached the floating market we disembarked the boat and took a walk around the land market. We could buy some food from several boats on the side. We bought some coconut pancakes which a lady was making on the boat. They were so delicious, we went back for seconds.

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Through the market to the other side we could board another boat.  This time it was a row boat, so we could stop at different boats to shop.   You would point where you would like to stop and the person rowing, an elderly woman in our case, would row you next to it.  It was a lot of work for her especially in the heat.  I was sure to give her a good tip.  We were told that you have to haggle.  Never pay the price they’re asking for. I felt quite uncomfortable doing this, but soon got the hang of it. Our first purchase had been at the market on land.  Two dresses Olivia and Eliana had picked out.  I had paid about 70% of the original asking price. We bought a piece of wall art and a bag on the floating market. Both I managed to buy for 50% of the original price.  If you start to leave they call you back and drop the price even more.  The girls thought it was so funny. Feeling happy with our purchases we left the market to go back to the hotel.

Our hotel was close to Asiatque.  A night bazaar with lots of restaurants, a ferris wheel and a few other rides. You could walk there, but we took a Tuk Tuk, which was way more fun. We enjoyed walking round the market and had a really good meal at one of the restaurants.  It was very inexpensive, especially after paying Singapore prices.  We rode the ferris wheel and the girls went on a very strange rolling vehicle ride.

The following day we spent relaxing at the pool and went back to Asiatque in the evening for dinner.  I had an awful night after that. Something I ate had disagreed with me.

Olivia woke with a fever. Luckily I didn’t feel ill anymore. I was worried that she had food poisoning after my night, but she had no other symptoms.  I gave her advil to bring her fever down and she spent the day in bed. By the evening she felt much better. We made it to the theatre and through the tech run.

The Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre was located in a mall about a thirty minute drive from the hotel, but could take well over an hour with the traffic.  Our dressing room had a great view of the night market from the window.  It was also one of our favorite dressing rooms with cute red chairs and sofa. The mall had a good selection of restaurants to eat at.  A lot of sushi, one of my favorite foods.  Eliana continued her very own food video series trying anything different she could.

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Unlike the other cities we visited, I didn’t see any advertising for the show. None at the hotel and no billboards on the street.  I didn’t even see Shrek signage at the mall.  Yet, this was the best selling city so far and the audiences were amazing. They laughed at all the jokes and gave a roaring applause each night. There were a total of eight shows over the course of five days.

My family from the UK joined us a couple of days before the end.  My Uncle Alan, brother Richard and his partner, Jason.  They came to see the show and then we would vacationing with us in Pattaya.

We only had an evening show on the final day in Bangkok, so we had some time to see a couple of sights with our family.

Our hotel offered boat service up the river to catch another boat to the Grand Palace.  Knowing how bad the traffic in Bangkok was, this seemed like the best idea.  Once off the two boats it was a short walk to the palace.

The Wat Phra Kaew,  also know as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace are situated together. The ornate buildings and statues are spectacular.  Unlike anything I’ve seen before. The palace is no longer used as a residence, but is used for ceremonial occasions.

We walked for about 10 minutes and visited the Reclining Buddha.  The huge Buddha is 46 meters long, guilted in gold and takes up nearly the entire chapel. You walk the entire way around it.  Another very impressive sight.

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Bangkok closed that evening and the following day we were leaving for our family vacation.

Singapore

After three double show days in KL, we seemed to go straight into Singapore.  Just a couple of days break to travel and for the crew to load in to the new venue. There would be two eight show weeks in Singapore, followed by a week off.

Olivia would be performing for the Press event ‘I Know It’s Today’. She hadn’t performed for press since Istanbul, so she was really excited. I was nervous.  We’re six months into this tour and I still get nervous when I watch her.  Of course, it went perfectly.

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Base Asia were the presenters of both KL and Singapore.  They arranged an opening night party in Singapore at a local restaurant in the Marina Bay Sands. It felt good to get dressed up and go out in such a beautiful location.

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Our hotel was situated about a 15 minute drive from the theatre.  Singapore has a very good subway, so instead of the usual bus to the theatre, we were each given metro cards to take the MRT daily.  The subway was a ten minute walk from the hotel. We would then take two trains. It was very clean and punctual. It’s great way to get around town and can pretty much take you everywhere.

The hotel was nice, but the room was so tiny, you could barely walk around the beds, so getting to clothes each day was difficult.  It was the first time I really felt like we were living out of a suitcase.  The last two cities had spoilt us for space.

There seemed to be mall after mall after mall. All busy with a lot of high end stores which I wouldn’t be spending any money in.  My favorite part of these malls were the food courts.  Nothing like the food courts in the US. They have really good restaurants. Most of the meals we had for the entire three weeks were in the food courts.  We had Teppanyaki, Indian, sizzling pepper steak and Japanese Bento Boxes to name a few. All reasonably priced. Restaurants outside the malls were priced pretty much the same as the higher end NYC restaurants.

Clare’s family were joining the tour for the three weeks in Singapore.  Olivia and Eliana were so excited.  Clare and Bart have three boys, Spencer 8, Simon 4 and Safford,16 months.  So far there haven’t been any kids on the tour and now they had pool buddies.  They spent most days which had only evening performances with the boys at the pool.

At the theatre, Spencer, Peter Pan, had volunteered to be a guest teacher, teaching Science.  He taught twice on double show days. Tackling heat and electricity.  This was way more interesting than the version I would’ve taught.  I think Olivia found it very refreshing and he had put a lot of thought into how he would teach.  He even brought props.

The presenters had given a list of things to do.  One of them was the cable car ride to Sentosa.  We had planned to spend our first Monday off at Universal Studios on Sentosa.  There were a few ways to get to there, but we chose to kill two birds with one stone.  It was a beautiful view, a little expensive though. No surprise since most things are expensive in Singapore.  Olivia had made two friends through Instagram who were in the Australian touring production of Les Miserable. Seb, who plays Gavroche and Chloe, who plays Little Cosette.  We would be joining them. We had met Chloe and her mom, Alys, the prior evening when they came to see Shrek, but we had yet to meet Seb and his mom Lechia.  We all hit it off really well, the kids had such a fun day.  Lechia and Seb had to leave early as their family were flying in, but Chloe, Olivia and Eliana continued on the Puss in Boots ride, a total of thirteen times!

Eight shows later, we closed Singapore and could spend the next week seeing what this city had to offer.

To start our week off we were meeting up with Alys and Chloe.  We booked a Duck tour, which is a cross between boat and bus, going on both land and water. We cruised along the Singapore River and back to the Singapore Flyer,  The second part of the tour was to ride the flyer.  It’s a huge ferris wheel, like the London Eye.  We had beautiful weather and a magnificent view over Singapore.  The girls just loved spending time with each other.  It was lovely to watch them enjoying themselves.

Tuesday evening we watched Les Miserable.  We had booked tickets to see Seb play Gavroche. Unfortunately, Chloe was not playing Cosette on the same night.  I really wasn’t sure what the girls would think of the show.  It’s really long, and as in it’s name, quite miserable, but Olivia had been speaking with Seb on IG for a few months and she really wanted to see him.

Seb was a great Gavroche. I think it’s one of the best roles for a young boy in theatre.  The girls lost the story quite a few times, but by far my favorite comments were after the Lovely Ladies scene.  Olivia said “who are these people”? to which Eliana replied “they’re the fairytale characters”.

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Wednesday night we went to the Night Safari.We had been told by quite a few people that it was the best thing to see in Singapore.  It didn’t disappoint.  You can walk, take a tram, or as we did, a mix of both. We saw bats, flying squirrels, badgers, hippos, warthogs, elephants, leopards and much more. The only downside to the night safari was that it’s too dark to get any good photos.  The photos will have to live in our memories, which should last about a week with mine.

The next day we were going back, but this time to the daytime zoo.  It was our first trip out with Clare, Bart and the boys.  Also joining us for the day were Jack, Will and Marissa.  We started the day at breakfast with the Orangutans.  The zoo was the best I’ve been to.  We spent the entire day there and without complaint from the five kids we had in tow.

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Our last night in Singapore was spent on a river cruise with Lechia, Seb, Layla, Alyse and Chloe.  The girls were sad to say goodbye.  They had enjoyed their time together so much and I loved having some other moms to hang out with.

With the end of Singapore came a much sadder end for us.  Clare was leaving as Company Manager.  We had become so close. Clare had been part of so many of our adventures.  She was our tour family and her family had also become part of ours.  The only consolation was that there were only a few weeks left of the tour and we’ll be sure to see her when we’re home.

Kuala Lumpur

The flight from Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur was a short one, but we still spent the entire day traveling.  We arrived at the airport before the check in was even open and the whole process was a kind of a “ free for all”.  We were delayed a couple of hours due to a crazy thunderstorm, which is quite typical in this region, but once we were in the air, the flight was smooth and fast.  We were greeted by Leonard, our host for the week, who guided us through the immigration process.

Our first week in Kuala Lumpur would be a layoff week.  Some of the cast were going to travel to other places.  We were going to enjoy our time in KL and see the sights. I knew that once we started the show, we wouldn’t have much time for anything else and I figured there was enough to see and do there.

As soon as we were driving to the hotel I knew we were going to love this city. I had a feeling of ease not having the crazy Jakarta traffic surrounding us. We had been given our room keys at the airport, so we knew there would be no confusion when we arrived at the hotel.  We dropped our bags in the room and went downstairs to the lounge where we met other company members for dinner.  There was good music playing and I felt a sudden rush of excitement for the couple of weeks following in KL.

I had done plenty of research to schedule our time off. I didn’t want to go crazy cramming things in.  The girls can’t absorb as much as adults and although I like to run like a crazy person, I want them to remember special times. It’s hard to remember events when there’s so many. Maybe it’s my age?  I was going to give them a week off of text book homeschooling.  What I had planned was definitely better than learning from a book.

Our first excursion was a firefly cruise.  We took a drive out of the city about an hour and stopped to see Silver Leaf Monkeys. This was the unexpected highlight of the day.  Clare had one jump on her and I had one try to steal my bag.  It was hysterical.  I wanted to take one home.  Looking into their eyes was just like looking at another person.

Back on the bus for a short drive to Kuala Selangor.  We had dinner at a fishing village and then took the boat ride to see the fireflies.  It was so very peaceful.  The fireflies lit the side of the river.  It looked like it was lined with Christmas trees. We pulled up along the side and the girls were able to cradle fireflies in their hands.

The following day we visited the Batu caves, a series of large limestone caves and a hindu shrine.  There are 272 stairs to climb to the top, which in the heat is quite exhausting.  No gym needed that day!

Our last trip we had planned was to trek in the rainforest.  Joining us were Clare and Christina (Teen Fiona). There were a few tour companies offering this trip, but I had found Happy Yen through Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet reviews.  His tour was a little different and sounded like quite an education.  It was everything other reviewers had said and more! We started the day with an Indian breakfast of Poori, some delicious dipping “stuff” and ginger milk tea, before visiting a Buddhist temple.  Yen gave us the history of Buddhism, showing us statues and murals.  Olivia was soaking in all his knowledge, while Eliana was anxious to leave and do something more active.

Next we were heading to the rainforest.   We trekked for four miles stopping at different plants for Yen to tell us about them.  He used the nature to explain life lessons.  It was so very interesting.  We walked through rivers, stopped at a huge waterfall, fed fish while they swam around us, ate lunch by the rapids (which the girls swam in) and got rained on as we trekked back.  I’ve never felt so disgustingly dirty and wonderful at the same time. An invigorating experience.  On our way back we stopped at a hot spring.  I love heat and hot water, but as soon as I dipped my toe in I said there was no way I could get in there.  Yen assured us we would be fine getting in.  He had us count while looking at him.  Ten seconds later we were in (adults only).   We could only stay in a minute or two, but it was an incredible feeling.  This was another “best day ever”!

We had a few more days before we were back to work.  We spent them relaxing by the hotel pool, which was our favorite so far.  We made a quick obligatory trip to the KL Tower and the Petronas Towers.  Tall buildings don’t really impress us much since we live next to NYC. We had some lovely evening meals out in the city.  It’s a really enjoyable city to walk around.

The theater in Kuala Lumpur was beautiful.  We had four long days there. The first day was tech and the opening night show. Then three double show days.  There was no wifi at the theater which dictated what I could teach. It worked well though.  Olivia finished 4th grade Math a couple of weeks ahead of schedule.

Kuala Lumpur was one of my favorite cities on this tour so far.  One that I could absolutely live in.  I felt completely at home.  It had the right mix of old and new. Culture and food.

Jakarta

The first thing that hit us in Jakarta was the heat. Then the insane traffic.  Our drive to the hotel took about an hour, but with no traffic it would’ve been considerably less.  There were cars, trucks and hundreds of motorbikes surrounding us.  We were greeted at the hotel with breakfast and massages till the rooms were ready. Ours was ready before I had a chance for a massage.  The hotel rooms were apartments. We had a two bedroom with a kitchen, living/dining room, washing machine and a bonus room which the girls turned into a dance/singing/play room.  The apartment was pretty large, especially by NYC standards.  The complex has a pool, spa, restaurant and bar and it’s walking distance from the theater and mall.

Our first excursion from the hotel was on our second day in Jakarta.  We went with two cast members,  Michael and LaNette to Miniature Indonesia. It was quite a short ride, maybe thirty minutes.  We didn’t know the park closed at 4pm. We arrived at 3pm, so that really didn’t give us a lot of time. We did get to see a few of the buildings.  It was a good way to get a quick view of Indonesian architecture.

I’m not sure people had seen blondes before.  We were constantly being asked for a photo and people were touching the girls hair.

We took it easy relaxing by the pool the following day to make sure we were over our jet lag for tech rehearsal.

Getting back into the swing of the show was pretty easy for us.  Since we had an apartment this time, I changed homeschooling to the mornings before we even went to the theatre. We only had weekend matinee’s and they’re brains for school are way better in the daytime rather than the evening when we’re at the theatre.

Opening night was a huge success in Jakarta. The audience understood the humor of the show.  You never know how that will be with the language barrier.  Olivia had a few friends she had made on Instagram who came to see the show. We were also going to meet her friend Victoria the following week for sightseeing.

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After the opening weekend we were taking a trip to the Krakatau Volcano. The drive was about three hours from Jakarta. We left at 6am, which was a little shock to the system being on a show schedule.   Once at the coast we took a speed boat to Krakatau.  It was raining and windy, so we were not sure if the weather would allow us to make the trip. We spent an hour of fear on the boat.  It was so bumpy I thought we were going to fly off.  I felt more sick than I had dune bashing.  I couldn’t wait for it to be over.  I knew the ride was about an hour and a half.  About halfway through the skies cleared to beautiful sunshine and the view of the volcano.  My stomach calmed along with the storm and I felt a huge wave of relief as we watched in awe of Krakatau.

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We were surprised to see a lot of vegetation at the bottom of the volcano. Mammals and reptiles also live there. It’s quite a climb to the first ridge, which is as far as you’re allowed to go. Eliana was struggling halfway up, so we stopped to take some photos.  I told our tour guide that it was probably as far as she could go, but he said he would help her. We needed to see the top.  I thought the view from where we were was magnificent and doubted it would be any better from the top, but we continued the hike.  Thank goodness we did.  The view from the top was the most stunning I had seen and we all felt we had accomplished a great feat.

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In 1883 the Krakatau volcano exploded causing a tsunami which wiped out villages killing over 37000 people and injuring thousands more.  Volcanic ash traveled around the globe causing the temperature of the earth to be lowered by one degree for two years. It remains one of the deadliest and destructive volcanic events in modern recorded history.

The eruption destroyed 60% of the island but the volcano activity continued under the sea causing it to resurface during 1927-1929.  The Island still keeps growing and the volcano is still active today.  It’s last eruption was in September 2012.

We stopped at the old Krakatau Island to go snorkeling. It was a first for all of us.  I’m not a strong swimmer and I’m not comfortable in the water, mainly cause I can’t stand cold water.  I figured the girls would go in and I would watch,  They’re both excellent swimmers and would stay in water all day given half a chance. Again, the tour guide said this was something I wouldn’t want to miss, so on went the lifejacket and I was in the water.  I instantly put my face into the water.  It took a couple of seconds before I completely relaxed realizing it was easy to breath.  It was so incredibly beautiful. As I enjoyed my swim with the beautiful fish around me, I didn’t realize I was swimming away from the boat.  I looked up and couldn’t believe how far I had gone. We swam to the shallow part of the coral reef where we could touch it. I felt like I had been transformed into a mermaid and was at one with the ocean (or in this case the Strait).

The boat ride back was calm and enjoyable and we all enjoyed the ride home soaking up the view of the coast.

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The following two weeks show schedule had nine shows per week. One evening performance on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  Matinee and evening performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Our cast seemed to be dropping like flies with sickness probably from food they ate, or water. Some with sinus issues which was thought to be caused by going from the extreme heat outside to the extremely cold air conditioned theater.  We had our own thermostat on our dressing room, so I turned the AC off all together.  Luckily, we escaped any illnesses at all.  I was very careful not to take the girls on trips in the heat on show days.  We didn’t even rinse our toothbrushes in tap water, only mineral water and we only ate at good restaurants.  There were plenty to choose from the mall.  There was a supermarket where we could buy food to cook in our apartment, but it was more cost effective to eat out.  We kept the apartment stocked with milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese, fruit, bread and cereal for breakfast and snacks, but ate out the rest of the time.  A meal in a restaurant was very inexpensive.

The cost of food and services made no sense at all at first.  You could get a ninety minute massage at the hotel for $10, but a pack of Oscar Meyers bacon was $25. I later found out that the import tax is very high. You could get bacon for a couple of dollars, you just had to know not to get an imported brand.  Of course I took full advantage of the super cheap massages.  I’m not complaining.

Our only other day off was the following Monday.  We spent the day with Victoria and her mom, Herlin.  They picked us up around 11am and showed us pretty much the entire Jakarta in a day.  Monday, isn’t particularly a good day to go sightseeing in Jakarta. A lot of the museums and buildings are closed, but it was our only day off, so we made the most of it.  We started at the National Monument.  Other days you can go to the top to see the view, but it wasn’t open.  It was cloudy and rainy, so it didn’t matter anyway.  Next was the Old Town.  There were bicycles made for two which you could ride around the square. Victoria and Eliana on one bike and Me and Olivia on another.  That was a lot of fun! We had lunch at Cafe Batavia. Good food and a lovely view and ambiance.  I had Nasi Goreng, a traditional Indonesian dish.  Olivia had pancakes and Eliana had fish and chips. Definitely not traditional Indonesian food.

We visited Ancol Beach and took the cable car ride for the view.  It was sweltering hot, even the beach didn’t give much relief. As I mentioned before, everywhere we went people would stop us for photos or touch our hair. Victoria couldn’t believe how much this happened.  She felt sorry for us.  Eliana was really beginning to get fed up with people touching her.  We all were, but she wasn’t having it anymore and gave everyone her best evil eye if they came near her.   We had a day at the pool previously where a group of people were videoing the girls swimming. I had to let security know.  I understand that we’re somewhat unusual there, but I found that to be very rude.  I don’t even mind so much when people ask for a photo, but videoing my children enjoying themselves is just wrong.  Ancol beach was pretty dirty, not somewhere to spend a day, but worth a quick visit just to see what’s there.  It has a water park too, but also dirty.  I wouldn’t go there.

We ended our day with Victoria and Herlin driving past the President’s house. Like the US, it’s a white house.  Then we went to the mall where we ate Japanese food for dinner.  We were so fortunate to have them show us around for the day. We wouldn’t have been able to see so much of Jakarta otherwise. Victoria speaks perfect English.  She was the only person we met in Indonesia who did.  You would’ve thought she was educated in the US.

We had one more week of shows in Jakarta,  We spent the days homeschooling and swimming with our evenings in the theatre.  We ate all our meals at the hotel or at the mall.  More cast members were sick, so everyone was about ready to leave Jakarta by the end of the three weeks.  I think for us, our worst part of being there were the elevators up to the theatre.  They took so long and they packed people in like sardines.  I think that was probably one of the reasons people got sick too. You see a lot of people walking around wearing face masks to protect themselves from the fumes, pollution and germs.

I enjoyed the Jakarta experience.  For a big city with so many people there was surprisingly not a lot to do, so maybe a week less would’ve been good.  The congestion, traffic and pollution makes it hard to travel around. I think the biggest shock looking at the city is the huge contrast.  You have big high-rises and western shopping malls mingled with illegal shacks people have built to live in. I would like to have spent more time visiting other parts of Indonesia, but that will have to wait for another trip.

Dubai

The last thing I expected when writing a blog about Dubai was that I would have anything negative to say. I had been hearing how wonderful and luxurious it was, so it was one of the places I was most looking forward to.  Oh, was I wrong.

Before each city we’re given a tour book. It gives the details of where we’re staying, emergency numbers, places to see and local customs. We received the book a couple of days before we left for Dubai and we were told of a hotel change. We could see that this was a definite downgrade from the hotel we were previously staying at, but I  felt that with so much to do in Dubai and the fact that we would be there for eight nights with nine shows and one tech rehearsal over the course of six days, the hotel didn’t matter that much. That was until I saw the hotel. From the lobby I was pleasantly surprised.  It seemed quite nice. By no means luxurious, but nice. We’re there for a job, not a holiday (although some may think from this blog that it’s a holiday :)). Upon checking in I was told that they didn’t have a bed for Eliana, only a crib. Since when could a seven year old sleep in a crib? I informed the tour manager and he asked that we go to the room while they work on a solution. The halls were dingy and smelt of smoke. We opened the door to the room and it was absolutely disgusting. It wreaked of mold and smoke. It was beyond dirty. I didn’t want to touch anything. We came immediately back down to the lobby, where there were other cast members with similar and worse complaints.  I can’t even write what one cast member found in their room, but I’ll leave it to your imagination given the type of hotel I’m describing.  The cast members share rooms and these rooms were not large enough for them to share.  I was ready to find us another hotel. Of course, spending my money on another hotel would be insane, since we were meant to be staying somewhere appropriate to be able to work, but with kids, the last thing I wanted was them in this enviroment. I was asked to wait to see if they could fix this. I do understand that Dubai is expensive, but on my hotel search I found a lot of inexpensive, good hotels. The solution they came up with for the entire company was to give everyone individual rooms and they would be checked for cleanliness. We were fine with that. We certainly were not where I would have ever chosen for us to stay, even if I was really budget shopping, but at least now we all had beds and it was clean. This entire process took four hours and I needed to get the kids out for some enjoyment after that ordeal.  I took them to the Dubai Mall for dinner.

After dinner at the Rainforest Cafe in the Mall we went outside to the Dancing Fountain. WOW! It was really a spectacular sight to see.  We watched from the side.  It was very crowded, but we found a nice spot.  We saw the gondolas going round the fountain and wanted to take a ride. I went to ask how much it was, expecting it to be really expensive and not take it. It wasn’t expensive at all, so we took the  ride and watched the fountain show again from the water.  It was definitely another highlight of our time on this leg of the tour.

The following day we went to the Atlantis Waterpark.  It was lovely, but extremely expensive.  Given the fact that we have great water parks in the US and close to where we live, I wouldn’t say this was worth spending the money we did.  We had a fantastic time and it was beautiful, just overpriced. I should’ve checked the price before going.

For the evening we had booked a visit to spend time with penguins at Ski Dubai, located in the Emirates Mall. Christina, Gingy, from the cast was joining us.  It was Christina’s dream to see and touch penguins and when she had asked if we would like to join her we jumped on the chance.  I knew we would all love the experience, but to go with Christina, who was so emotional, made it even more special. I think the tears in her eyes when she touched them will be a lasting memory for me.  First, they have  you change into ski clothing.  It’s absolutely freezing in there.  Then you visit two penguins.  The second you’re allowed to touch and take photos with.  The trainers give a short talk about the penguins.  That was science accomplished for the day.

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The following day we went the the arena for tech. The arena was located at the Madinat Jumeirah.  The location was just stunning with a hotel, shops and restaurants.  We all wished we were staying there.  Our dressing room was behind the stage.  The girls thought this was fantastic.  I found it really hard for homeschooling.  Trying to concentrate when you’re hearing the show at full volume is next to impossible. Surprisingly, Olivia and Eliana were able to concentrate better than I was. I feel like we missed a week of school.

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Wednesday was opening night, but we had the daytime free.  We went to Jumeirah Beach Residence, joined by Louis, from the cast.  The beach is lined with hotels and stores.  It was nice to relax for a few hours on the beach. Well, I relaxed, the kids and the big kid, Louis, played in the water.

The next few days were grueling. Nine shows in five days, That’s a lot of hours in the theater and it was really tough to keep the kids focused and amused for that long, especially when the schooling seemed not to be working too well.  I colored Eliana’s hair and she colored mine, as you do. Those last few days seem like a blur now.

Our final evening, between shows, we went to dinner with a few members of the cast. It was the most beautiful night with a perfect sunset. A beautiful end to Dubai and the  Middle Eastern leg of our tour.

Our Middle East video will be posted shortly on, Welcome to the World with Olivia Fanders YouTube Channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5mOiJUZDdvrAxEtawGF76A