Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Tues 29 July: Back to work

Found out today I’ve got the job I had second interview for yesterday. It’s a short term (3 months) piece of work in Sydney, working for one of the big govt departments to help them work out how to engage more effectively with their NGO service providers. Good things about it are a) I’ll be earning instead of spending! (and it’s good money) b) it will help me get to know the ‘scene’ a bit more c) it will open up contacts and longer term opportunities d) it will give me a bit of breathing space to keep talking to people in Melbourne about potential options there. Not-so-good things about it are a) I’m not sure I’m cut out for civil service life b) it’s a bit more strategic/policy focused than I’d like. All in all I’m happy as I’d always rather be doing something than nothing and I feel like now I can relax a bit and just enjoy being in Sydney for a few months.

As a complete aside, you may be amused to know that K has now read this blog and has commented that he feels like he’s a secondary character in a Sex & The City-type column (he should be so lucky!). He’s also started referring to himself in the third person in a sardonic way – e.g. “K noted for the record that his preferred cinema choice was vetoed”, that kind of thing. Oh the laughs we have (!)

Mon 28 July: Rain, rain go away

Had second interview for a short term contract in Sydney this afternoon (went well), preceded by a meeting with recruitment agent who’s been working on my behalf. When I went to meet her, it was sunny and fine. By the time I came out an hour later, it was pouring with rain and it didn’t really stop all afternoon or evening. It’s grim.

K’s first day in new job today. Seemed to go well enough for a first day – nothing too taxing and the usual paperwork/tour of office/’getting to know your desk’ stuff.

Had a lovely home-cooked meal of pasta with artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and olives this evening (courtesy of K). One of his specialities and one of my favourites. Then it was off to the cinema again! This time to see the Dark Knight, the new Batman film, which was a considerable improvement on last night’s offering! There is loads of hype here about Heath Ledger’s performance and a bit of a campaign going to get him a posthumous Oscar. Hard to say whether that’s deserved or not – he was a lot better than a lot of Oscar winners have been in the past, but not sure what the competition’s like this year…Anyway, it was well done as a Batman movie – quite a gritty, dark feel to it, no ridiculous crash-bang-wallop effects and a reasonable plot. It felt a bit on the long side and Christian Bale’s deep, husky Batman voice was slightly odd (he sounds like one of the blokes that does cinema trailers). Other than that, I’d recommend it!

Really looking forward to getting into our apartment next week and hopefully the rest of our stuff should be arriving in the next couple of weeks. Living out of a suitcase is okay for a bit, and fine if you’re travelling, but it makes ‘normal life’ slightly difficult.

Sun 27 July: Shopping & cinema

Today I was up early to phone back to the UK, this time to my dad. Really clear line and a good long chat including updated news on what’s going on in Scottish politics – there’s almost zero mention of the UK on the news here so I’m clueless at the moment!

Then we had a day of laundry, shopping (K needed a suit etc for starting work tomorrow), internet, cooking and then, in the evening, another fairly bad cinema experience. We went to see The X Files – the reviews have been bad but thought we might as well give it a try (well, it was probably me more than K!). Hmmm. It bore very little resemblance to the TV series and unfortunately Mulder and Scully’s characters were both pretty flat, caricatured and hard to engage with. Oh well.

Sat 26 July: Whale spotting!

After a long lie and a lazy morning, I managed to persuade K that we could do boring things like shopping tomorrow and that we should take advantage of the sunshine to explore the area around our temporary home. We set off around 1pm and found our way down towards Bronte beach, where we spent a bit of time watching the dozens of surfers in the water trying to catch the waves. We walked along the coast a bit and by this time hunger was setting in, so we stopped at a beachside café and had a veggie burger with chilli sauce (me) and a chicken breast burger (K), washed down with amazing fresh orange juices (they’re properly fresh here, and delicious). There was beach volleyball going on just in front of us, but the players weren’t of the sexy, bronzed variety – mostly middle aged men with an alarming propensity for taking their tops off in an appetite-spoiling manner!

Then we continued our walk along the coast, along some cliff tops and with lots of power walkers, runners and families out for the day. As we rounded one corner, we saw a group of people staring out to sea and decided to see what they were looking at. It turned out to be a pod of humpback whales, larking around fairly close to shore (about 50 m down from our cliff). Absolutely beautiful! They looked like they were having fun entertaining the cliff top audience and they actually looked like they, too, were trying to catch the waves breaking!

We walked right along to Bondi beach, where there must have been over a hundred surfers in the water. Apart from them, the beach was fairly empty (it is winter here after all) and it was actually quite pleasant (instead of being packed with posing types!). The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent sampling some of the local wines and beers , watching the Aussies tank the Kiwis at rugby (we were both secretly supporting New Zealand), playing a bit of pool and amusing ourselves by observing the antics of various drunk backpackers!

Today was a lovely day – Sydney was looking gorgeous and it made us feel that we would really like to have at least a bit of time here, even if we end up in Melbourne longer-term.

Fri 25 July: New home (for ten days)

Spent today on the train back from Melbourne to Sydney. It was a long day, and thanks to lack of organisation on my part, I didn't have much to sustain me on the journey - a bottle of water, a massive back of Doritos and a pear - hmmm! I did get tea & scones from the buffet car too, but having seen the lunch & dinner options on my outward journey, decided to give them a miss - microwaved crap in a plastic tub. Anyway, arrived around 8pm, tired and hungry. K met me at station and we headed (after stopping for dinner) to our new home for the next ten days. We’re staying in a studio flat in the eastern suburbs, courtesy of one of K’s colleagues. It’s a wee bit out of town but near beaches and it’s free, so that’s even better! Sydney was perishing and very wet today. Also had 'I miss home' moment after spending a fortune on taxi to our place thanks to a driver who was incapable of using a bit of lateral thought to avoid a traffic jam and seemed to only be able to follow sat nav - oh for an Edinburgh or London cabbie with the ability to figure out short cuts!

Thurs 24 July: Last day in Melbourne

Today was my last day in Melbourne and it was spent in yet more meetings and a very enjoyable morning with a social enterprise cleaning business. I then went for dinner with a couple called Rachel and Doug, who are old family friends of one of my London colleagues. They were absolutely lovely and insisted on paying for dinner, as well as providing the wine. We had Italian and lots of good conversation – it’s great to talk to Australians about their country, really fascinating. Can't remember any of the fascinating things I discovered now of course! (writing this several days later)

Tues 25 July: Unfinished Sky

Courtesy of an invite from K’s soon-to-be colleagues, went to see an independent Australian film tonight, Unfinished Sky. In the unlikely event that anyone reading this will see it, I won’t give away the plot, but I’d definitely recommend it. Well acted and sensitively handled exploration of Australian culture – it centres around an illegal immigrant who runs away from a sex trafficking outfit and ends up being taken in by a gruff Aussie farmer.

After the film, had a drink and a bite to eat in another proper ‘foodie’ place. The food was lovely but the portions were definitely ‘gourmet’ – aka tiny!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Mon 21 July: Clothes-tastic

Had a slew of meetings today, all of which were really useful and interesting and opened up various doors/further contacts, so that’s all good. But more importantly I went shopping! There are absolutely loads of great clothes shops here – it seems like every street has at least one funky little boutique filled with interesting, varied clothes. I’ve been resisting hard but today, I was lured into one by the sight of a really gorgeous, fitted three-quarter length coat. It was even better to see the price tag – only $60 (about £30) and after trying it on, I was sold! It’s dusky pink with a faint floral pattern in greys and darker pinks and is made out of a faux-velvet material – not as thick or heavy as velvet. Beautiful. I also got a couple of tops as I’ve got almost zero work-type clothes with me and you can never go wrong with nice tops, that’s what I say!

Attempted to contact my erstwhile partner today but he’s still out of mobile range somewhere on the Great Barrier Reef. No doubt enjoying the sunshine, warm water and lots of amazing underwater sights – while I type this with a heater warming my feet, the wind howling and the rain lashing down outside – jealous, moi!?

Sun 20 July: Brunch, Botanics & Skype

Today I had a late start as, despite a civilised time of going to bed last night and being full of good intentions to go running this morning, I was really, really tired when my alarm went off at 9am and ended up snoozing for another couple of hours. Maybe it’s delayed fatigue/recovery from the stress of moving and all that, or maybe it’s my body’s way of trying to cope with the shock of being back in winter light conditions (it’s dark here at 5.30pm and doesn’t get light till about 8am!) – either way, I’m hoping I’ll be back to normal sleeping patterns and energy levels soon!

When I eventually emerged from the apartment, I wandered around the Botanic gardens for a while – they’re just down the road and are really lovely. Then I was meant to be meeting a couple of people from K’s work for coffee and cake, but it turned out the train to their part of town was cancelled, so I ended up giving that a miss and getting a train & tram up to Fitzroy, a part of Melbourne that has been recommended as an area to live. I had a meeting there the other day and wanted to explore the area a bit more, so I wandered around, soaking up the sights and sounds and trying to picture me and K living there – which was very easy! It reminds me of Leith and Leith Walk in many ways – a bit scruffy round the edges but with lots of character and a healthy collection of organic stores, vintage clothes boutiques, quirky bars and cafes, community projects, discount shops and a real mix of ethnic communities. I had a late brunch of French toast with bacon, maple syrup and fruit salad, washed down with a freshly squeezed orange juice and a pot of tea, all for about £6 – superb. Melbourne is renowned for being a food-lover’s paradise and after today’s experience, as well as an excellent dinner on Friday night (with a colleague and her husband) in a very good Italian-ish place, I can vouch for it!

After a bit more wandering around, I headed to the city centre and an internet café I’d found that had Skype facilities, for a very welcome catch-up with my mum and brother, with various other extended family members waving in the background and popping their heads in front of the webcam! Skype is truly one of the great inventions of our time – it was lovely to be able to see and speak to people with hardly any delay and all for the price of using the internet. It will be even better when K and I have our own apartment and can use it without sharing the details of our lives with random strangers in an internet café!

Sat 19 July: Aussie Rules!

So today I took an important step in understanding Aussie culture – my first Aussie Rules Football game! AFL (to give it its local name) is a weird hybrid of football and rugby, with a slight hint of American football too. It’s most popular in Victoria (of which Melbourne is capital) but other states are starting to pick it up now too – they’ve tended to be more into rugby league in the past.

It’s played on a circular pitch, there are 18 players per side, about 5 referees on the pitch at the same time and the managers get to send on ‘runners’ any time they want – blokes in fluorescent shirts who relay messages from the bench to the players (the pitch is too big for even the shoutiest managers to be heard from the sidelines!). You get six points for a goal, which is when you get the ball between two H posts (like rugby) and one point for a ‘behind’, which is when you miss the main posts but still get the ball between one of the posts and another post off to the side. (It makes sense when you see it).

The game we saw was a pretty important one because both teams were fighting it out for a place in the run-offs – the league splits towards the end of the season and the top 6, 8, (?) go into the run-offs while the rest play the season out for pride! The first half (made up of two quarters of about 25 mins each) was fairly one-sided (the Richmond Tigers were pretty dominant) but the second half was pretty exciting as their opponents, the Essendon Bombers fought back and it ended up coming right down to the last few seconds. The final score was something like 108-102 so you can see there was lots of action!

There was a bit of a lack of atmosphere compared to a football match (I refuse to call it soccer!) – apparently the crowd aren’t allowed to sing until the end of the game (!) and it’s weird because there’s no home and away stands – everyone’s mixed in together. But you can see it’s a ‘fun for all the family’ type of occasion, which can’t always be said for the terraces in Scotland!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Fri 18 July: Melbourne & job hunting

So it’s Friday afternoon right now and I’ve had a couple of good meetings today & yesterday, with more lined up for next week and another phone interview in Sydney on the horizon too. Feels like lots of opportunities around so fingers crossed one of them turns out to be the right thing for me.

Other than that, I’ve been settling into my ‘home from home’ here – a serviced apartment in South Yarra, which is a very nice part of Melbourne, around 10 mins on a tram or train from the city centre. It’s full of classy little boutiques and loads of gorgeous looking restaurants and cafes. Staying in an apartment like this is much better than being in a hotel – it’s cheaper, I have more space and it means I can cook for myself instead of having to eat out the whole time.

Melbourne as a whole is really lovely. 95% of people we’ve asked have said that Melbourne is better than Sydney and even after only a few days, I can completely understand why. Sydney is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but Melbourne feels much more like somewhere you can live and experience different kinds of life. Sydney’s more of a show city – it’s beautiful and has some stunning sights – but it seems a bit superficial. Melbourne seems to have a lot more character and history – just walking around it, you get a sense that it’s brimming with things to do, from sports to museums to culture. It’s also a very green city, with a huge abundance of parks and the wide Yarra river running through it. Living near the Thames in London has really made me appreciate the value of being near a river – don’t know what it is about them, but just walking along their banks is a peaceful way to unwind and relax, even in the middle of a big city (can’t say I ever had that feeling about the Clyde when I lived in Glasgow mind you!)

Other good things about Melbourne include an integrated public transport system of trains, trams and buses, which is not only efficient, comfortable, reliable and easy to navigate, but cheap - $28 (£14) for 1 week pass, which is really good value for what you get. It’s also good for cyclists with lots of designated cycle lanes.

It’s cold here mind you – not bone-chilling in a Scottish way, but cold enough to have the heating on in the apartment. It’s around 14 degrees I think. But given this is midwinter, if this is the worst it gets, it’s not too bad!

So, I’ve been invited out for dinner tonight and then tomorrow, I’ve been invited to join a group of Kevin’s future colleagues for an Aussie Rules Football match – excellent! I have no clue about the rules or what to expect, but I’m looking forward to finding out – might have to buy some more warm clothes though!

Wed 16 July: Choo choo

Up at 6.20am, at station and luggage checked in by 7am. Train didn’t leave till 7.45 and I haven’t quite got used to not allowing lots of contingency time for queues, delays, general hurdles to be overcome (as I do in Britain!).

11 hours on train to Melbourne – pretty comfortable, loads of leg room, scenery not quite as interesting as I thought it might be – lots of farmland and all quite flat, but good to see a bit of the country while I’ve got the time and good to chat to a couple of people on the train.

No K – he’s off to Cairns for a bit more diving as he’s got an unexpected few weeks before he starts his job. I’ve got 5 or 6 meetings lined up with people in Melbourne over 5 working days, which feels like just about enough – have to leave some time for sight-seeing too!

Bizarre moment of the day – train safety card says “No sleeping in overhead luggage racks” - !!!

Tues 15 July: First interview

Up early again, this time to fit in appointment at bank before my interview this afternoon. We’d started the ball rolling on our bank accounts before we left the UK and this meeting was to confirm our identities etc and get our keycards/PINs sorted. Don’t know about you but any time I’ve been into a bank in the UK lately, I’ve left feeling completely exasperated by the total lack of customer service. This could not have been more different. SO helpful, friendly and really committed to good, personal, service. Banking isn’t ‘free’ in Australia as it is in the UK (or, you could say, the banks are more up-front about the costs of providing their services…?) so perhaps that helps to explain some of the difference, but it was really quite staggering. I can’t imagine Aussies getting the same treatment in the UK.

Anyway, that was one more task completed and after a delicious lunch of grilled aubergine, sun-dried tomatoes and pepper sandwich, in a little café near the bank, it was back to the hotel for a Wonderwoman-type change into my ‘interview clothes’, followed by a short train journey out to one of Sydney’s Western suburbs for my interview (for a short term contract to do some project management for a local govt dept). Again, the contrast between the UK and here was quite startling. My return train journey cost $4.20 (just over £2), which would barely get you started in London. The train was clean, comfortable and the service was regular and on time. I commented on this to one of the people interviewing me and she said that Aussies think the trains are expensive and terrible!!!

Interview seemed to go well, they’re seeing a couple of other people next week so I’ll find out by end of next week.

Back into city, pasta & pesto for dinner again! Packed up for trip to Melbourne, watched Sex & the City repeats on TV, then an early night in preparation for early start tomorrow.

Mon 14 July: Back to ‘work’

Today was day of getting back into some kind of work ‘routine’ – set alarm early, spent morning sending emails to work contacts and following up various ‘leads’. I’m off to Melbourne on Wednesday for just over a week and want to make the most of my time there to meet people and explore various possibilities. It’s looking good so far and I’m looking forward to getting to know the social enterprise world out here.

By the afternoon, had ticked off all my ‘to do’s so we headed out to explore the city’s swimming facilities. Had lunch in the Australia Museum café and then went next door to the Cook & Phillip Park Aquatic & Fitness Centre for a swim. What a place! 50 metre pool, probably 10 lanes, clean, cheap, hardly anyone there – had whole lane to myself. Right in the middle of city centre. First class. No wonder Australia has gold medal winning swimmers. K is delighted as swimming is his thing and is already planning his route home from work around the pool.

Back to hotel to check emails – have interview lined up for tomorrow afternoon for some short term work in Sydney, plus some more meetings set up for Melbourne. Went out for dinner to steak restaurant in Darling Harbour, followed by a drink on the harbourside with a view across to the Central Business District (the Sydney equivalent of the City). Realised that K and I have been completely spoiled by living in London for 9 months with a view of the “Gherkin” from our bedroom window – the last time we were in Sydney, we thought the harbourside view was spectacular and now we’re like ‘oh it’s not a patch on the South Bank’! Really should remember to count our blessings…

Speaking of blessings…Sydney is currently over-run by lots of earnest young people, all congregating as ‘pilgrims’ for World Youth Day 08, which is annual Catholic shindig, attended by the Pope as a celebration of ‘virtuous’ young people etc etc. Everywhere you turn, there are huge groups of them, all wearing official orange/yellow backpacks, many wearing their own ‘slogan t-shirts’ (Jesus is the one and only/I ‘heart’ Benedict XVI, that kind of thing), most carrying or draped in flags from their country of origin. There’s a fair amount of hand-clapping, quite a bit of tambourine-shaking and the occasional piece of guitar-strumming. All in all it’s quite innocuous but I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was anything other than a lazy-minded agnostic/atheist/not really bothered-ist.

Sun 13 July: More sorting…

Another late start – maybe jet lag hasn’t worn off yet!? Went for first run in ages today – a good way to explore the city, apart from the annoying grid system of traffic lights which makes it difficult to dart in and out of traffic! Good to run on hills again after the flatness of London, although that, and the fact that I’ve not run for about 2 weeks, meant my lungs were feeling it!

Another day of bits and pieces – got Australian mobile phones sorted, bought some provisions so we can make our own brekkie & dinner (there’s a kitchen at hotel), cooked up pasta and pesto, went to cinema this evening (saw Hancock – don’t bother).

Sat 12 July: Hello Sydney

Slept till 11am today – seems like first day for ages where we’ve not had anything to get up for (no breakfast included here so we could just get up whenever we felt like it). Had brunch out then did some more walking around. Sydney feels very familiar and it hasn’t taken long to get bearings back. Afternoon spent doing laundry at hotel, checking and sending emails, including various job-hunting related ones.

Had dinner in Italian place and then met my cousin, Robyn, who’s spending the summer travelling around Australia & New Zealand. Was good to see her and fun to hear about her backpacking tales – oh to be 22 again! After possibly one ‘schooner’ too many (they’re smaller than pints so don’t seem to ‘count’ as much!), saw Robyn onto her train and then headed back to hotel for some shut-eye.

Fri 11 July: And on to Oz!

Arrived at airport 2 hours before flight due to leave – as planned. Only to find that flight time had been changed and was leaving an hour early – bloody hell!!! Slightly irritating as travel agent hadn’t bothered to contact me to tell me and don’t even want to think about what would have happened if we’d missed it, but it all worked out fine and meant we missed all the check-in queues! Unfortunately meant that K couldn’t get emergency exit seats and we were stuck in middle seats right at back of the plane. But the time passed with various films, listening to music, sleeping etc.

Arrived in Sydney around 7pm. After checking into hotel, went for walk around Darling Harbour. Sydneysiders all wrapped up in thick coats, scarves and gloves. I’ve got one jumper with me and K has none – he’s a bit cold! I did remind him that the temperature is probably equivalent to Scotland in March so given this is midwinter here, it’s not that bad really!

Thurs 10 July: Back to KL

Back in KL for 2 nights before we make final step of our journey to Australia. Arrived late last night – around 1am - so late-ish breakfast this morning. I’d decided to book a different hotel for our 2nd stint in KL but after this morning’s breakfast chaos, I’m wishing we’d gone back to the Novotel! Almost nothing left to eat, hardly any tables and everyone seemed to be having breakfast late! But worse things happen at sea!

Spent a few hours in a shopping mall, and bought some clothes for potential interviews in Oz (my smart clothes are in bag I had to send back to my mum’s in Edinburgh!). Had dinner in what we were hoping was a Sri Lankan restaurant (it was called Ceylon something) but turned out to be a fairly westernised menu – I ended up having a burger and fries!

Wed 9 July: A day in the life of a diver

The last week has been spent pretty much following the same pattern – sleep, dive, eat, sleep, dive, eat, sleep, dive…you get the picture!

Here’s how a typical day unfolded…

7.30am – wake up in our wooden chalet. Designed for practicality not romance – separate beds! Have a quick shower in what, at first glance, looks like an outside shower but is actually enclosed by mosquito wire so you get the feeling of showering outside but none of the bugs!

8am – breakfast in the resort dining room. Buffet-style service with mix of western and eastern foods – hash browns, baked beans, eggs, noodles, dim sum, fried mee. Toast, cereal, loads of fresh fruit. Tea, coffee, juice. Sit at hefty wooden benches with fans overhead to keep us cool and a view out onto the jetty and the sea.

8.30am – head to dive store to start kitting up, which basically involves finding our wetsuits and diving boots, putting them on and then finding our dive boat.

9am – on boat. Check our gear is all there and that our tanks have been set up properly. Find a space on the boat for the journey out to Sipadan (around 45 minutes) and chat to the other divers. Our boat had 10 people on it including us – 2 Italian couples, 1 Dutch couple and an English couple.
10am – arrive at Sipadan island, which is a national marine park and home to a group of soldiers who protect it (a couple of people were kidnapped here a few years ago – not sure why!). Get into full dive kit (tanks, weight belt, fins and mask). Get briefing from dive master about which way to go, likely currents, maximum depths and times allowed. Back roll off boat into the water (very James Bond!). Go diving!

Drop down to up to 30m deep and dive for up to 45 mins at a time, gradually ascending. Each dive varies but overall we see dozens of giant turtles, sometimes sleeping, sometimes swimming, sometimes heading to surface for their gulp of air (lasts them for hours!). Also see loads of reef sharks including a memorable sight of around 12 juveniles playing what looks like ring-a-ring-a-roses with each other! They look incredibly sweet but if I was a fish I might not be saying that! As well as ‘big stuff’, we see a huge variety of tropical fish including some big ones like bumphead parrotfish (mean looking!) and shoals of barricuda, plus lots of smaller things like clown fish (Nemo), angel fish, bat fish, clams, moray eels.

11am – back on boat after dive, remove kit and swap stories with other divers about what we’ve seen. Boat drops us off on Sipadan where the crew make us cups of tea & coffee and we sit around in the shade, chatting and relaxing while we have our ‘surface interval’ (time on surface to allow nitrogen that builds up in your body under pressure, to leave at a safe pace before you go back under pressure).

12noon – back on boat, quick transfer to 2nd dive site. Kit up again and go diving again!

1pm – after dive, boat takes us back to our resort island (Mabul) where we have a quick rinse off in the shower, lunch in the dining room (usually a range of curries, stir fries and some western-style food), maybe time for a spot of reading and then back out for the third dive of the day.

3pm – 3rd dive

4pm – back to chalet for shower, relaxing and reading on sun loungers on our deck.

6pm – option to go night diving – I did this one day, as part of my Advanced Open Water Diver course, which I completed over the course of the holiday. Although it’s knackering to do 4 dives in one day, it was really fabulous to be in the water after dark. I thought it would be really scary but actually it’s amazing how much you can see. The light of the moon makes a big difference and underwater torches illuminate things of course. On my night dive, I saw some amazing things that you just wouldn’t see during the day – loads of big crabs scuttling around on the bottom and the absolute highlight of the whole week – two separate nests, which looked like big bonfires waiting to be lit, one containing cuttlefish eggs and with 4 giant cuttlefish hovering around it and one with squid doing the same. If you’ve never seen cuttlefish or squid in the sea, it’s quite a sight – they are the most alien looking things I’ve ever seen, but absolutely beautiful with it. I wish I had a picture!

8pm – after showering for the final time today (!), it’s dinner time! More delicious curries and stir fries, washed down with a Tiger beer. Bit of chat with other divers and then off to bed.

11pm – sound asleep. Zzzzz….zzzzz…..

Thurs 3 July: To Borneo…

Up at 4.30am, which sounds horrific but thanks to the continued wonders of jet lag, wasn’t actually that bad! Checked in to Low Cost Carrier Terminal, home of Air Asia, the easyjet of this part of the world, quite painless experience including a nice brekkie of boiled eggs & toast plus the bonus of free wi-fi for those early morning emails! K was chuffed to see Man Utd’s logo plastered all over planes – they are official low cost airline of the team!

Arrived at Tawau in Borneo (East Malaysia) late morning. 90 minute drive across to Semporna where we transferred onto a small boat to take us to our island resort. Joined on boat by an American family, father wearing a t-shirt promoting “the number one urologoy portal” which might explain the embarrassed look on his son’s face! Slept for a good part of the journey, arrived at resort looking forward to collapsing into bed and otherwise relaxing until diving started the next day. Ha! No sooner had we begun to unwind than we found out we were scheduled to do a checkout dive at 3pm – where they ‘check out’ that you can actually dive and aren’t going to be a major hazard to yourself, other divers or the reef! Could’ve seen it far enough at that stage but was good to get it done and out of the way and actually really enjoyed being back in the water again after nearly a year since last dive.

Wed 2 July: The early bird doesn’t catch the worm…

Up at 6am and wide awake thanks to jet lag. K also wide awake so decided to take advantage of it and got up for big buffet breakfast. Followed this with a morning dip in the outdoor swimming pool – it’s fairly small but we had it to ourselves (everyone else still asleep probably!). Headed to Petronas Towers around 12 only to find that all the day’s viewing platform tickets had been allocated by around 10.30 – oops, if only we’d known we could have been first in the queue!

Banana leaf curry for lunch in a fairly greasy looking café but lots of local people eating there so K figured it would be good – and was proved right! Absolutely delicious range of vegetable curries and dahl all for about £5 for both of us.

Afternoon spent emailing, snoozing and watching Wimbledon on hotel TV.

Headed out in early evening to explore. Took the monorail, wandered around old colonial part of town then trained over to Chinatown. Walked around the markets, ignored all the cries of traders trying to sell us fake watches and then decided to walk over to Bikit Bintang, which is heralded as the Champs Elysees of KL – er, I think not! Seemed to be a line of massage parlours and fast food places and not much else. By the time we reached the end, we’d been walking round for about 20 mins, which doesn’t sound like a lot until you remember that the humidity and heat here make it like walking in a sauna! But we decided to keep walking (in for a penny, in for a pound and all that) and headed back up towards the area near our hotel where we’d discovered a nice set of restaurants. Unfortunately the one we picked this evening was the short straw with a disappointingly bland chicken curry and pretty slack service. Oh well. Eventually made it back to hotel by which time we were both reduced to pools of sweat. Watched some more tennis, packed up for leaving tomorrow, then sleep.

Tues 1 July: We’re on our way!

After lots of difficult emotional goodbyes and the party to beat all parties, left Edinburgh yesterday morning. Slight hiccup at airport due to totally unexpected and exorbitant cost of excess baggage, which resulted in 3 of our 6 bags going back to my mum’s in a taxi – problem to be solved later!

Flights uneventful, the usual misery of a Heathrow departure lounge – so busy, such crap food, travellers packed in like sardines. Arrived in Kuala Lumpur early this morning and had unexpected bonus of not only being able to check in to our hotel early, but also getting a complimentary upgrade to the business floor – 25th floor, stunning views across to the Petronas Towers.

K and I pretty much collapsed after bath/shower, slept till 2ish, then went out for lunch. Hot prawn curry for me, could feel chilli working immediate miracles on my slightly congested digestive system! Starting to feel a bit more like myself again after stresses, strains and emotional rollercoaster of past few days.