October 6, 2008

Letting Go in Langkawi

By Theresa Manavalan

FAMILY holidays with children in tow can be a nightmare but THERESA MANAVALAN finds the perfect answer to her dreams and surrenders the kid.

Today is one of those days. You wish you are sitting in the shade of a beachfront coconut tree, resisting nothing more than a colourful cocktail and a distinguishable ocean breeze.

When we became a double-income-one-kid family, vacations became wishes just like that. Each holiday was worse than the one before. Every planned move was interrupted by bathroom calls and a diaper bag seemed joined to us at the hip.

There were more milk bottles than wine bottles and there were no more late, lazy lunches or suppers that straddled two sides of a night. You know, in that sexy sort of way.

Beach trips were characterised by us having to split up. One stayed with the baby while the other went off to jet-ski or parasail or something. Everything about the break was about the baby, little was about us. And I, especially, came home with post-holiday tensions. Silly me. I had surrendered the holiday. The trick was to surrender the child.

We did exactly that at the Meritus Pelangi Resort & Spa on Langkawi Island's Pantai Cenang (www.pelangibeachresort.com) on the west coast, chosen because it was far away from metropolitan Kuala Lumpur yet near enough for a meaningful three-day weekend but mainly because it had a kiddy centre (no "groan ups" allowed) that would be happy to host our four-year-old aspiring ballerina/princess/ strawberry shortcake from breakfast to dinner - as in all-day.

That sold us, except for that niggling question about how we could abandon the child when a holiday was about us being together, not separated by office and kindergarten and other divisions of life in general. Here's lies the ugly truth about children - they won't miss you one bit when they're having fun.

So we breakfasted from a generous buffet on the terrace of the Spice Market restaurant with a swarm of cheerful Australians. Madamoiselle ate half a bun and then promptly launched a hunger strike that under-12s are famous for.

After a short, futile negotiation over food, we walked along a heliconia-lined footpath to the Kiki Klub, where a man in a fringed T-shirt, stetson and zany face paints identified himself as The Cowboy, greeted us noisily and signed in his client with such aplomb that she couldn't hold back a million ringgit smile. Together, they waved at us... to vamoose.

In hindsight, I do believe that was the moment. Naked, cold, and tense with silly separation anxiety, we turned and braced the sunshine, the scent of the Andaman Sea and proceeded towards the casuarina trees pruned into umbrella shapes. There we sat on green deck chairs for a long, long morning doing nothing, saying little and letting ourselves be seized by the intoxicating visual of sea water, the sound of waves pounding the beach and the glare of the sun on the sand.

A tummy growl eventually shook us out of that and, like bugs to the light, we ambled over to the pool and without a thought, shed our towels and slipped into the cool blue. I swam up to the bar, sat on the barstools in the water and asked for the fanciest-looking cocktail, something with fruit generously perched on the rim. It felt like being rescued from the police state controlled by Barney, Elmo and JoJo the Clown and returned to the safe shores of pure adulthood and fleeting hedonism.

What a moment, the very same one when a chef with a smiling face popped out from behind the bar and strongly recommended lunch.

Don't move, he said, and a series of appetisers appeared, followed by an elegantly plated wrap of grilled chicken. There I was, in the water up to the waist, my elbows on the bar, lunching.

This reverie was suddenly punctuated by the screeching of children. Sure enough, there she was, with a whole bunch of other kids, squashed in a trishaw of all things, and having a ball. Did she look my way? No, actually she looked away. She and her new pals were squealing in delight and waving at the older children and a couple of supervising adults on bicycles of their own. The trishaw seemed to chasing someone dressed as a gigantic cockatoo. They disappeared behind the bougainvillea and bird of paradise bushes at piercing decibel levels.

Such rejection called for massive pampering but I wavered at the Teratai Spa, opting for a simple foot massage. But basic it was not. Just the act of going through the spa menu in a bamboo and frangipani garden was already calming. A masseuse took my legs into her possession and sent me off to another planet with really strong strokes. The combined effect of blood circulating efficiently, the warm towels and the scent of lemon grass was quite mesmerising. She left quietly, with her coconut shell of massage oil and I sank into sleep.

So soon the afternoon was over. It was absolutely delightful to walk through the lush tropical garden of the 30-acre property to the Kiki Klub to pick up that certain so-and-so who scowled at us.

We retreated for a shower and to get ready for a barbecue on the beach. Dusk descended and the aroma of roasting meat beckoned us. The staff seemed to understand that the faster food came to a child, the more successful an outing would be.

Tiny crabs scurrying on the sand entertained our tot and dinner was devoured. I got a recount of what happened at Kiki Klub. Clearly, she had a hectic day.

As she slept like a rock on the child's bed, we sat outside on a verandah, built precisely for two, sipping a robust Shiraz and munching on an assortment of nuts. A lively night breeze rustled my hair, or was that his hand?

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