Monday, 2 December 2013

FREDDY DOES ASIA (pt1)

About 150 kilometres north of Phuket sits a new resort that overlooks the sort of pristine beach where the water and the horizon meet with a harmonious blue. The rooms are plush and modern; the whole place newly constructed on the site where its predecessor was before the 2008 tsunami.

The vegetation and the spirit of the locals have returned in abundance. Fortunately, so have the tourists. For a week, that included us.

Their website didn’t lie. Open the sliding door from the room, and you'd almost fall into the pool outside; a quick wade away was the swim-up bar. Khao Lak was to be the relaxing part of our holiday, the second week of our journey to South-East Asia. We had earned it; the previous five months had been overwhelming, exciting and pleasantly exhausting.

Our first week was spent in Kuala Lumpur. We were there for a wedding, and had a week to acclimatise. Freddy put his stamp on the trip the moment we set foot on the plane.

“Welcome to Malaysia Airlines Mr MacDonald. Ooh. Baby. A boy or a girl? [hold hands, prod cheeks, pinch feet] I see you have seats with a bassinet. Wonderful. You can leave your stroller here at the gate and you may board first.”

I turn to Anna as we pass through the empty plane to row 30. “How good is this?” It’s a question I don't expect an answer to; I’m creating a sense of assurance. “First on board; travelling with a baby – it’s the done thing.”

Actually, it doesn’t seem to be. Although we’re boarding with another couple, grappling with an impatient toddler, we are the pariahs of the plane. And we’re easy to spot … and smell.

At our seats, I see where the bassinet fits. Imagining Freddy settling into it shortly after take-off is a pleasant and calming thought. His routine has been adjusted to schedule a feed on take-off and a nap as the first flight meal is served.

Freddy doesn’t see it that way. In his (open) eyes, he has successfully avoided a nap, which he takes to mean “soak it all up”. Containing his excitement for seeing new things was near impossible – the lights, the activity, the noise. He is alert, and we enter damage-control mode. Conscious of keeping our innocent fellow travellers on side, we commit to settle him. For eight hours, we bounce him through the aisles. Bouncing past the school group, I feel the students witness a real-life lesson on the benefits of contraception. For extra effect, after about four hours, I did it with a beer, guessing they might make a subtle connection.

Hope does not arm the parents of babies with the co-ordination to handle a long-haul flight. But we are up and away.

----

The whole night, all I heard about was how good you were for staying in and looking after Freddy,” Anna told me as she climbed into our Kuala Lumpur hotel bed just before midnight. “I told them, ‘you wouldn’t have said that to him if I was the one staying home and he was out here with you’.”

 
Kuala Lumpur airport is an hour from the city centre. Our first taxi driver decided to swap with his wife half-way through the ride, so an overtired Freddy made her pay by screaming much of the drive to our hotel. It was his first out-cry and well understood despite the language barrier.

Being organised and prepared for every circumstance is vital when travelling with a child. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Our days began with a 15-minute chat over breakfast about whether a stroller or baby carrier would be best, and whether we were truly prepared for a code brown in the pool.


Our days were spent juggling our excitement at being in a new city with a sensitive time bomb of emotion, teeth and sleeplessness. The hotel pool, the shops, and the food courts were our safe havens, though we tried to satisfy our adventurous streaks every now and then. We ate at local restaurants – the roti canai (right) was spectacular – and we walked most places.


Laksa down.

On day two, the hottest of the trip, we had a slight lapse in judgement. We trekked to the “boondocks” in search of a Sarawak laksa, an amazing peppery version of the soupy noodle dish that we discovered on our honeymoon in Borneo. Although we found the tiny eatery after a long, steamy taxi ride, Freddy was quick to put his own stamp on the meal – with his foot. The bowl vaulted into a somersault, and the contents were ejected into my lap.

Because we made the most of the sun being up, we decided to cut our losses at night and stay in. Sure we’d hoped we both could have met our friends out at night in Malaysia – more than 60 had flown to KL for the wedding – but our son had developed and aged on that flight. He was aware of everything and couldn’t bear missing a thing. His teething seemed uncomfortable and he was feeding like his life depended on it. Whether it was the heat, his growth spurt, the feeling of new teeth, the fatigue or just being intensely aroused, our five-month-old seemed possessed. The less he slept, the harder he tried to keep his eyes open. It seemed easier to protect the party from him at night; he’d be too ratty … for him, for us, for everyone.

Heli Lounge, K.L., a great
start to the buck's party.

So, for the first two nights, from 7pm, with Freddy in his cot, we would sit in the dark, watching Breaking Bad on the lap-top. It seemed easier that way, even though he awoke every two hours. It took us 48 hours to realise that staying in had become all a bit too much for us, so we decided to join the party in shifts. One would go out, while the other would stay at the hotel. Anna went to the night markets on Tuesday (which embarrassingly earned me praise from my mates) and I took Wednesday (for the buck’s night). Thursday, we cut our losses and joined the pre-wedding Chinese banquet … it almost ended in calamity. Friday we had a babysitter … another story (another post). And that was the week.

We knew our own limits and we pushed them, for we knew we had a week at a beach resort afterwards to wind down. The exhaustion of going out, dealing with hangovers, constantly settling and resettling our five-month-old was telling. We expected to do a lot of “R & R” in Thailand.

To be continued…

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