The end of the big T

Tanya cycling through India

T is for Thailand, but it is also for Tropics. As our time here in Thailand end, so does our trip. For the past 10 months we have spent all of our time in the tropic, from the northern Thailand, northern Vietnam and middle of India. We have also been in the far south, in Singapore nearly straddling the equator. We have seen the season (hot, hotter and wet), and although hot season was hot when we arrived, it is now cold. Hotter is still hot and wet is wet. Torrential downpours have caused small streams to fill paths, make roads more like river instead of roads, and have transformed the landscape from yellow to bright green. The lethargic hot weather makes any task difficult.

Learning at the PDC

Taking our PDC in Malaysia during the hot season was tough, I remember laying on the cement trying to cool down. I also remember working on Grassroots farm during this hot period, hoping for rain just to keep cool. I also remember when it would get cold at night in Hampie and Dalat, having to wear a sweater and a toque (who knew?)

New tastes, Durian, the King of Fruit

We both embarked on this trip in hopes to see something different, and experience something different. Riding a bicycle through India was a great way to achieve this goal. We also wanted to get inspired, thanks to places like Sadhana forest and the Panya project we are inspired. But also to our PDC teachers and everyone else we have met along the way. We have learned so much on this trip. We have learned:

  • How to build with mud

  • How to make kimchi

  • How to make wine

  • How to live in a community

    Learning about biodynamics

  • The best way to find ones way around rural India

  • How to grow food

  • How to cook without a cook book

  • How to cook for a hundred people

  • How to make various Biodynamic perperations

It was damn cold in Dalat

I know there is so much more as well. I never thought that I could get sick of traveling, and although I’m not sick of traveling, I am ready to come home. There is so much I want to try, there is so much I want to do and I’m looking forward to doing it.

SE Asia is full of culture and history

I want to thank all the loyal readers of this blog, we appreciate you dedication and patients. The last couple of months have been pretty inactive (in terms of blog posts). Since the beginning of this trip there has been more then 16,000 views on grannygear, which is pretty amazing, so we thank you all for your support. For those that we met on the road, maybe one day our paths will cross and we can catch up. For the rest of you back home, we are looking forward to meeting up people we haven’t seen in about a year and just chillin. See you soon.

Grassroot Organic Farm

Over the past week or so Tanya and I have been WWOOFing at Grassroot organic farm in Penang. WWOOFing stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms, or the more updated name of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOFing is great, you spend somewhere between 5-12 hours a day helping out someone on their organic farm. In return for your labour, you get a place to sleep, food to eat and of course, an unforgeable experience. I can hear the skeptics now saying how this is not a great way to travel, but after seeing the sights for the better part of a year, having some meaningful work and local connection to the people and land is very enjoyable.

Cath, Tanya, Sook Hwa, Meishy and Kelly

Grassroots Organic Farm main product is Durian. Durian is a spiky fruit about the size of a cantaloupe. It has the strong smell of rotting organic matter, and has a taste that some people love and others hate. Personally I love it, but a lot of people hate it (some hotels have big signs that say “No Durian Allowed”). If you go to Wikipedia you will find that some people describe the odor as pig shit, or sewage. It isn’t that bad, and if Tanya or I ever smell it again, it will instantly remind us of the last 3 weeks. The texture is similar to that of avocado and the taste is like nothing else.

Cleaning durian before selling it

Smelling durain to see if it is ripe, yummy yummy durian

Apart from the Durian, Grassroots Organic Farm has a lot of Bananas, a few Rambutans, and a handful of other tree producing fruits. Our days were mostly filled with us: cleaning durian, mulching bananas, gathering organic waste from the local market, feeding the chickens rotting durians, planting NFTs (nitrogen fixing trees), watering NFTs, mulching NFTs and building a rainwater capturing system. It was a lot of fun, and we were glad we could help Meishy and Sook Hwa out on their farm.

Picking up the unused organic matter from the market

The goods from the market

Pollarding a tree, with a tiny saw, it took a while

Cath and Kelly Mulching away

Kelly installing the rain water capture system, the supervisors in the foreground

Posted from Bayan Lepas, Penang, Malaysia
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Banana Circle

A Banana Bunch

A banana circle is a great way to grow bananas, or any other tree/herb (bananas are actually a herb) that require a lot of water. So if you don’t like bananas, you could plant papaya or willow (which is great for mulch). At the PDC we learnt how to make one and while working at a farm here on Penang, another one was being constructed, so I took some pictures.

First of all, why would someone want a banana circle? There are many benefits, this is a great way to get rid of kitchen scraps or other organic wastes. In the tropics, it is amazing how fast organic material can break down here. That organic matter will be then utilized by the bananas. Typically there are banana clumps of three or four. In banana clumps, you have to mulch each clump, but with a banana circle you can essentially cut you mulching work in half (a banana circle will have 7 or 8 bananas).

The way the banana circle is designed will cause the organic matter to be leached into the soil and not across the soil (as with clumps). In clumps you may have too many banana plants and as a result your bananas will be small and spread across to many banana plants, thereby creating more work for you.

A banana circle creates edge, edge is important, ask a forester where the greatest amount of diversity of plants are in a forest, and they will tell you it is on the side of the road right of way, near a stream bank or near the shore of a lake. All of these places have edge and edge create a more diverse site which can support a greater amount of diversity. The same is with a banana circle, and as such, you can grow more then just bananas.

Start by digging a hole

The first step is to dig a hole (~2m in diameter and ~1m deep). In the end the hole should look like a mini crater, the hole should be fairly concave and the sides shouldn’t be too steep.

About 2m wide and about 1m deep

The next step is to pull the dirt around the edge of the hole and make a brim or a mound around the hole.

This is a banana cutting

Now it is time to plant. Plant what you want to grow there, whether it is a banana, papaya, willow or something else.

Plant the banana in the ground, that grass looking thing to the right of the banana is lemon grass

This is where permaculture really shines. Now plant some other species, and really you can plant anything you can think of. Near the inside of the hole it will be wetter, this is where you plant something that likes the water, like taro, yam, or ginger. On the crest (where you planted the banana), plant some sweet potato and some lemon grass. Near the bottom of the slope plant some beans (which will climb up the banana trees). To add an extra benefit, place a grate in the middle of the circle and have a shower in the middle of the banana circle and all grey water from the shower will be captured and used for banana growth.

Cover the bare ground with mulch and throw anything into the middle, if you look closely you can see some sweet potato, and there is some ginger planted on the inside of the circle as well.

With the use of a banana circle, there is no need to make compost (which is a lot of work), and there is no need to burn any organic matter. It is unfortunate here, so many people will rake up leaves, twigs, kitchen waste and coconut husks into a pile an burn it. Why would someone do this when they can use this great organic matter to make food? There just isn’t any reason why someone should burn waste in the tropics (or temperate regions for that matter).

Posted from Bayan Lepas, Penang, Malaysia
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Georgetown Buildings

Georgetown is full of old buildings (as you may have gathered from the last post). This morning I went out early and took some shots. It was great walking around in the morning and seeing the town slowly wake up, unfortunately most were driving. I stopped for breakfast at an Indian stand and got a roti cennia (like a porotta, just not quiet as good) and watched people get some goods from the market. The most popular item was the chickens, plucked of feathers and sitting in a box, they are flopped onto a cutting board where the butcher will chop up the chicken efficiently and quickly. You can’t do this in Canada, in fact in BC you need to go through so many regulations only the big farms and super markets can afford to sell meat. Kind of funny, there is probably a billion people here in Asia that get there meat from a road side stand, sitting in +20 degree weather and chopped up with a cleaver. It is something we have moved away from in the West, just the thought of getting our chicken not wrapped up in styrofoam and plastic wrap breads concerns of germs and disease. I think we need to rethink our food system from the bottom up. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Sorry for the little aside, Georgetown in a beautiful city and it is only a matter of time until the roadside markets are replaced by the disinfected supermarket I know back home. Here are some pictures I took from this morning.

Posted from Bukit Mertajam, Penang, Malaysia
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For the past few days we have been in the town/island called Penang. Situated closely off the coast of North West Malaysia, Penang was where the British first colonized in Malaysia. The town is great, both Tanya and I really enjoy it here, there are so trees and greenery, hills and heritage buildings, it is a great place to be. We have been lucky enough to meet up with Balan (Balan took the PDC course with us back in the middle of May). It was great, Balan and his wife (Chithra) welcomed us into their home, showed us around Penang and made our visit to Penang truly memorable.

There are many sights to see in Penang and we have seen quiet a few. There is the Penang hill, a 800m tall hill that overlooks the main city of Penang, there was also the Ban Po Thar (largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia), The sleeping Buddha, The Burmese Buddhist temple, the old town and the Thai Consulate (we got our Thai Visas). Some we saw on our own, and others we saw with Balan and his family. So far our stay here has been wonderful, tomorrow we are heading out a farm on the island (we met the farm manager at the PDC) to help out the farm.

Posted from Bayan Lepas, Penang, Malaysia
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Swimming with Sharks

Two long bus journeys, one taxi ride, and a slightly terrifying “fast ferry” we arrived at Pulau Perhentian (the small island). I have never been to a tropical beach island before and this one has set the standard very high.

There are two main beaches on either side of the island and no roads at all, you have to walk through the interior jungle of the island to get to the other beach (the path is complete with massive spider webs home to gigantic spiders and lizards that are like mini-dinosaurs). The island was amazing, perfectly clear blue water, sandy beaches, and great weather. However, since we did just finish a permaculture course, we were able to see a few flaws, like how un-environmental and un-sustainable it actually was (generators are the only source of power, the only drinking water is bottled and brought in on boats thus very expensive, burning garbage, etc.), but we did talk a lot about how easy it would be to make the place way better in this regard, so much opportunity, I think the next Malaysian permaculture course should be here! However, we met several people there who came from Thailand and they said the Perhentians were much better!

Our days basically went like this…sleep in, go have breakfast, sit on our porch, finally get around to going to the beach, swim in the fantastic water, go have lunch, relax, go have dinner, sit on the porch some more, then bed! One day we went snorkelling, the first time for both of us! We really enjoyed it, we joined a group with a guide and we went to 6 differents snokelling sites and saw lots of coral, various fish, sting rays, and sharks..yes, several sharks (don’t worry we still have all of our limbs!). I was afraid of the fish at first but they basically leave you alone. We met some great people here and really enjoyed our time. We always say we’re not “beach people” but after this experience, I think we are!

Posted from Ketengah Jaya, Terengganu, Malaysia
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KL and Melaka

Without the awesome powers of us, these towers fall to the ground

We spent a couple of days in KL. We needed our fix of good food, and downtown KL has quiet the selection. The first night we had Lebanese, then in was Mexican, then Moroccan. Good eats. We even bumped into our fellow Singapore Sightseeing sidekick, Jill (completely random and unplanned meeting). Our tax returns came back, the result was a trip to the malls. Downtown KL malls are impressive, then make WEM look like Fields in Leduc.

After our fill of delicious food we left KL and headed to the town of Melaka. Melaka is chilled out, we first headed to China town to find a place to stay. This is where we wish we had our bicycles, now we have carry everything on our back, in the hot humid air, instead of coasting along the quiet roads on our bicycles. This hotel has wifi, which has been an important factor in our accommodation selection (this is a new option that was never available in India).

Looking up, KLCC at night

Multicultural: Within 1/2 a block, a Hindu temple (not visable), a Mosque (in the distance), a Tao temple (accross the road) and a Buddhist Monestary (where the picture was taken from)

After cleaning up we went exploring. This town is pretty dead during the week, but only being 200km from not one but two major centres (KL and Singapore), I have a feeling this place gets pretty busy on the weekends. Most of the stores were closed and most of the ones that were open we selling some touristy trinkets. It was like going to Jasper, in November. There were a number of stores selling cool t-shirts (I like cool t-shirts) and there were many art galleries. After cruising the streets we headed to a place called Capitol Satay.

Cool buildings in Melaka

Nice lighting, Melaka

In case you were wondering

We didn’t know what to expect, but the guide talked it up so we checked it out. We get there and there is a cooler with some raw meat on the left and tables with holes in the middle and a lpg container beside each table. In the hole they place a pot of satay sauces (sweet and spice), and turn on the gas. The sauce heats up and you put our meat in there to cook it. It is like a fondu, Malaysia style. Pretty tasty, but one can only eat so much satay.

Nice and clean, that is until we start using it

Tanya with our platter

Cooking, it gets a little messy

Prawns, with the legs and eyes, reminding us that we are eating an animal

Pretty Tasty, but one can only eat  so much satay.

Posted from Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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PDC (permaculture design course)

We’ve just finished our PDC at Embun Pagi and we both learned alot.  The course was two weeks long and we went from 8:30 in the morning until around 9:30 pm most nights, it was a really busy schedule!!  (note: all the pictures on this post were not taken by Kelly or Tanya, their were taken by Ruyu, who was helping to run the PDC).

To describe Permaculture in a quick sentance is somewhat difficult, but it is basically a “system of design for creating sustainable human environments”.  It is organic agriculure combined with design and ecology.  (I can almost hear my parents laughing now because as a child when we used to visit my grandparents farms I would always say how I could never live or work on a farm!).  The course is a combination of lecture, hands-on expereience, and a big design projects.  There were about 15 students in the class, from either Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Canada (us!), and the instructors who we met in India are from USA/France.  We’ve met some great people in the course!

Here are some of the topics that were covered in the course:  site design, design methods, pattern understanding, climate factors, water (ie. greywater systmes, water catchment/harvesting), trees, soils, natural building, earthworks, aquaculture, transition towns, urban permaculture, etc.  We did some interesting hands-on, such as building a vermicompost (yes, worms!).  We are looking forward to using some of the info we learned when we are volunteering in Thailand.

Posted from Rawang, Selangor, Malaysia
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Kuala Lumpur – ChinaTown

Welcome to Malaysia

We arrived early in Kuala Lumpur to pouring rain.Chinatown is the area of town with the budget accommodations so we thought we’d head there.I didn’t have very high hopes for a decent place (just based on Chinatown in Edmonton).However the neighbourhood was much nicer than I though and we found a good place to stay quicky. We ate breakfast at McDonalds…yes, McDonalds as it was the first place we saw and I really just wanted to go to the hotel and sleep.The make their Sausage McMuffins out of chicken here for the Muslim population.

A full 7hours of sleep later, we set off exploring the older part of town. We first went to the Central Market (which is more souvineers than anything). After walking through the nice a/c bazaar (nothing at all like the markets in India) we went to see some older Islamic influenced architecture.

A small white mosque surounded by green trees and tall buildings


Red palm trees? Nice gardens here

Islamic Tiles

After the sun set we went to a street totally lined with you-name-it knock off goods…need Gucci sunglasses, a Coach or Louis Vutton bag, Rolex or Tag watch, some trendy shoes, well they’ve got it…and the quality was very good actually, a person into fashion could easily tell the difference I’m sure, but I really couldn’t.We left empty handed (though most tourists we saw didn’t) and instead went to a really nice Malaysian restaraunt where we had a meal and I had two…yes two glasses of wine!

Posted from Klang, Selangor, Malaysia
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