KL, Petronas Towers and Batu Caves

The roads were windy as we descended from the Highlands, it was rather scary too watching the driver navigate through the narrow roads. The bus had Kuala Lumpur on the front – our next stop.

The lush green tea plantations were a stark contrast from the skyscrapers that welcomed us in the Malaysian capital with the KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers standing at 452m and 421m respectively, clear in the skyline.


After lunch in a food court where Beth managed to order three chicken strip meals rather than three individual strips we headed for China town. Large red lanterns hung above tightly packed markets stalls offering everything from Rolex’s to Ray Bans, Michael Kors to the latest Manchester United shirt, all genuine at a good price or so we were told!

A statue clad roof stood over the Hindu temple we visited, the girls wrapped a colourful material around their lower body to cover their knees and the males just removed their flip flops.


Beth and I then headed for a full body massage with an hours massage costing us £12 each. Beth went onto have a manicure and pedicure at the fraction of the price back home.

Poor, slow service appears to be a regular occurrence in Asian restaurants, with people receiving their food before other table members had ordered – the Chinese we went to was no exception. The smug chap dancing below felt like he was saying ‘we’ve wasted your evening, now we take your money’.


Tuesday morning saw us take a guided bus tour around a number of the tourist attractions in Kuala Lumpur. The first stop was the Kings Palace, a grand and golden looking building which wouldn’t look out of place in Aladin. The palace has not long been recently completed (2011) costing £160m which is a lot considering the King doesn’t live there! The King only uses it for meetings in the capital.


 The National Monument was next which is beautifully set, surrounded by water, remembering those who have fallen. It’s the world’s tallest bronze freestanding sculpture grouping and looks impressive surrounded by fountains.


    The next stop was the National Mosque, a 15,000 people capacity mosque just outside the centre. As a mark of respect we all had to cover up with the girls donning Hijab (head scarves) and the boys wore robes.


 272 steps followed as we climbed, along with the monkeys to the Batu Caves, just outside of Kuala Lumpur. A limestone hill that has a series of caves and cave temples, occupied by cheeky monkeys who patrol the steps. The cave is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India. We were caked in sweat by the time we reached the top, as the steep climb was difficult in the humidity!


      Two of the most iconic buildings in Kuala Lumpur were next, the Petronas Towers. The former tallest building in the world (1998 to 2004), standing at 452m. The lift climbed at 6m per second so we were soon at our first stop the sky bridge, this gave us a teaser at 170m before shooting to the top. The views from the top were incredible with the viewing gallery designed so that you could get a 360 degree view of the city.


            

As night fell we headed back to Petronas for a meal and drinks. The after dinner fountain show was incredible on the water which laid in the shadow of the towers. For drinks we took our guides advice and headed for the ‘Sky Bar’ on the 33rd floor of the Traders Hotel. The centre piece of the bar is the pool – could be dangerous for alcohol lovers and the bar offers fantastic views over the Twin Towers. Our frozen cocktails really helped us cool after a day in the humidity.


          

Tea, Chocolate Cake and Jungles

After a 4 hour journey across motorways and winding climbing roads we arrived in the Cameron Highlands, which are pushing 2,000m. We arrived in Tanah Rata which is surrounded by lush green tea plantations in the early evening.

An Indian was on the agenda for our evening meal. My starter arrived after my main, with the groups meals arriving over a 45 minute period – you’d get fired back home for that! The naan and pancakes were great and although the chicken was well flavoured it was full of bones.

On Sunday morning we boarded a former Austrian military truck, which stood out like a sore thumb in the entourages of Land Rovers in the Highlands. They once broke a World Record for the most Defenders in a convoy, over 400!


Our first stop was the highest point in the Highlands, above the clouds at 1,800 meters. A tower had been built to get much higher, providing panoramic views of the green rolling hills.


We then headed into the ‘Mossy Forest’ which our guide said that it is rare to have easy access to such a habitat with people having to treck for days to reach similar forests. We were warned that our shoes would be turned to ‘chocolate cake’ due to the muddy tracks that we’d be tracking on. If you think of the Avatar film that’s what the forest was like, inter winding moss covered trees letting small glimpses of sunlight through.



We stopped at a viewpoint deep in the 600 acres of tea plantation with stunning panoramic views of the green carpet like hills. The plantation was owned by a company called BOH, which is privately owned by a Scottish family who have passed it through generations. The leaves are ‘picked’ by machine with two men holding either end, this differed to the plantations I saw in Kenya where people carried baskets on their backs to throw the leaves into.


 Next was to the tea factory where all the leaves are transported to. We had a very traditional English afternoon tea. With cream and jammed filled scones with fresh tea filling our pallet.


 Climbing uphill we visited a butterfly farm, posing with insects such as scorpions before fresh strawberries at a strawberry farm and a brief visit to a cactus farm.

Time Tunnel was next a museum showing the history of the Highlands which has deep British routes. The area is named after William Cameron a Scottish surveyor who found settlements in the late 1800’s. It later had British military influence with camps being based their during the Second World War and letter people doing their National Service their also.

The 4th largest Buddhist temple rounded off our day which is home to the largest statue of the Buddha in Malaysia.


Some of the group chose Steamboats for tea – not a term for somebody getting paralyticly drunk. Steamboats are a gas cooker (camping stove) which are placed in the middle of the table with soup in them. Raw meat, vegetables and noodles are served with them which you throw into the water and boil it to cook. Beth and I were less adventurous opting for chicken dishes, however the dried chillis in mine were an eye waterer.


    Beers by a fire pit closed the evening at the Jungle Bar – a popular bar for backpackers.


Dim Sum, Minions and Cats

It was a bit like Sushi, small bowls and lots of them and strained tea with our lips. We ventured for Chinese Dim Sum for breakfast trying just about everything on offer! A very different breakfast to the British fry up.

    
Penang has become famous for its street art in the last few years so we grabbed a map and went exploring (Find out more here). It’s a mix of wrought-iron caricatures telling the cities story and paintings by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. We worth a visit if you’re in this area of the world. Graffiti has also appeared on the walls of the city with a minion takeover!

                            

Snakes, Colonialism and Temples

Friday was our first full day in Penang in north west Malaysia. The climate was noticeably different and we were greeted by warm rain for the first time in our adventure.

We took to the streets in a minibus with an English speaking guide who pointed out the colonial influence on the city, with beautifully constructed typically grand and white architecture.


However colonialism isn’t the only influence on the city which also boasts a ‘little India’ and ‘China town’, with 60% of the cities population being from a Chinese origin. Their presence on the city is evident and we visited a number of different piers which only Chinese people with certain surnames could stop on, however there was one where any Chinese could stop on too! Red lanterns with golden tassels lined the narrow boardwalk out to the water with little stalls selling gifts on either side.



We braved the lunchtime traffic and ventured over to the only ‘Snake Temple’ in the world, which also hosts over 30 different breeds of snake in its adjoining snake sanctuary.

At the snake sanctuary we witnessed a rattle snake hiss and rattle its tail, supposedly it can rattle at 60 shakes a second! I stroked an albino snake from head to tail, so now I have good luck supposedly – happy days! A man kissed a King Cobra in a snake show, one of the venomous snakes in the world, which will kill you in 15 minutes. ‘You either choose heaven or hospital’ said the commentator, with heaven being the more likely option with the hospitals taking up to 1:30 hours to reach in traffic!


    The bus then took us to the a huge Chinese temple set on Penang Hill overlooking the city. Beth and I both wrote our names on a candle, lit it, made a wish and then placed it infront of the 16 handed God. We then placed a wish on ribbon on a tree outside the temple, writing our names on the back.


     Little India was the next stop where we picked up butter chicken, naan, drinks and a rice dish for about £4 for the two of us!

Elephants, Back Cracks and Boxing

Wednesday was classed as our ‘free day’ on Koh Samui and the group could do whatever they wanted. We opted for a welcomed lie in and got up about 9.

We headed to the strip with its array of souvenirs, fake branded clothing, massage parlours and bars, shopping on the way down. I had the trouser fitting for my suit – 14 hours after processing the order, watching a man draw all over them with chalk.

We’d booked an elephant treck for the afternoon, with our transfer to the Elephant sanctuary arriving in Thai time – 25 minutes late.  We arrived safely after near misses with scooters and wandering dogs.

We were welcomed by the Giants that are well respected in Thailand, plodding along in the afternoon sunshine. We were offered the options of getting a card framed photo or asking our Mahout (elephant trainer) to take them for a tip, picking the latter.

After 10 minutes the Mahout jumped down and invited me to take his spot on the head of the elephant. He then proceeded to take about 20 photos with various poses. After our ride he let us feed her with bananas, with it being cute watching the elephant search for the bananas with its trunk before shovelling it into its mouth.

  

In the evening we had a girls and lads night with both parties going out separately. The males headed for a Thai body massage followed by pizza and Muay Thai Boxing at the local arena.

Four out of the six left the ring on stretchers which showed the sheer brutality of the boxing. A number of champions from all over Thailand had ventured to the island to compete, with the Bangkok, Southern and Koh Samui champions all taking to the ring. The main fight was between the German champion and the Thai champion which finished in a draw, as the Thai champ sent the German crippling to the floor after a knee to a banned area!  

    

ARTICLE – Balloon Kenya: Out in Africa, Advising Its Entrepreneurs – Leicester Mercury Article

In January this year, mid way through a Finance Placement with German giants Bosch, I began to look at ways I could spend my summer. Many of my friends were heading to the Balearic’s for an alcohol fuelled summer, but I wanted to do something different that would help with my final year of University and also with the ever increasing competition in the graduate market. Whilst applying for internships with major banks I stumbled upon Balloon Kenya, a project based in Nakuru, Kenya that works with entrepreneurs in Africa’s fastest growing city. After an initial application form asking what I could bring to the programme and why I wanted to travel to Kenya I received a telephone interview. The interview was competency and situation based, asking how I would deal with certain problems in Kenya. Whilst on a treadmill I received an e-mail to say that I’d been selected to travel to Kenya to participate in the August programme.

Balloon Kenya was founded by recent graduates Josh Bicknell and Doug Cochrane in 2011. Josh travelled to Kenya in 2008 and based his Masters Degree dissertation on the political violence that the country had faced and witnessed a strong entrepreneurial spirit despite the struggles. Having struggled to find graduate employment themselves they headed to Kenya with six students (Fellows) from across the world in 2011. They had put together a syllabus for Fellows to teach to groups of Kenyans based around Osterwalder Business Model Canvas and also used small, but effective business principles such as Gross Profit Margins and Cash Flow Statements. The program has grown substantially and in 2013 sent 54 students to Kenya over two separate programmes and received over 400 applications, working with over 200 Kenyan entrepreneurs.

I’d saved over £1,000 from my placement year, I needed to raise a further £2,500 to be able to attend, however this target did not frighten me as I was determined that I’d be on a flight to Kenya. I was fortunate to be awarded the Innovation Award from Sheffield Hallam Student Union and also grants from Leicestershire the Andrew Martin Trust for Young People, the Soar Valley Leicester Centre and the Clarke and Somerville Foundaion. I also had full support from Loughborough MP, Nicky Morgan, who worked with me to reach my target.

I woke on the Wednesday, two days prior to leaving for Kenya, to see that Jomo Kenyatta Airport was ablaze. I kept cool and managed to re-arrange my flight to Entebbe, Uganda. Upon arrival in Uganda we were informed that we needed to take a seven hour bus journey to Nakuru, sixteen hours later we arrived at our destination. Although the bus journey took a while it allowed me to watch East Africa pass by the window, giving me my first encounter of poverty from the safety of the bus.

Although the first week of the programme was classroom based we spent very little time sitting down. We spent time sticking Post-It’s to walls and going out talking to Kenyans on the street. This is how they wanted us to deliver the program to Kenyan entrepreneurs, seeing us facilitate rather than lead. We didn’t want to force ideas into their heads, but encourage them to think outside the box. Steering them away from the ‘copy cat culture’ which see streets full of people offering the same products or services.

Weeks two and three saw me and a partner begin classroom sessions, working with two groups, consisting of eleven Kenyans in total. They had varying businesses from fruit stalls, shoe shops, Boda-Boda (Motorbike) transport service and another wanted to start an affordable recording studio. They all want to grow their businesses and improve their standard of living, as some earn as little as two pounds per day. Each of the two groups received ten hours of tuition over the first two weeks.

Testing and continued market research followed in week four and the beginning of week five. Armed with questionnaires the entrepreneurs took to the streets of Nakuru to gain opinions on their current service and their proposed change to see what their consumer would like. We also arranged meetings with people who had experience in the field they were venturing into.

Two days before my departure the individuals pitched for a micro-finance fund at Balloon Kenya’s partner Hope and Vision, who provide support for Nakuru based entrepreneurs. Each of them came out with huge smiles and said that even if they did not receive the investment, they felt that the education delivered would help them improve in business.

Balloon Kenya delivers welcoming news from Kenya, as the country has recently been at the centre of media attention. I am pleased that I have been able to attend a programme which has allowed me to work with people who may not be as fortunate as we are, but still have enormous smiles on their faces.

I now return to Sheffield Business School as the Finance Director of the Enterprise Society. Hoping to bring the Kenyan entrepreneurial spirit to the students of Sheffield. Away from my studies I shall be trying my hardest to attain a graduate position in either Consultancy or Finance, relating the skills I gained in Kenya to positions.

VIDEO – Balloon Kenya: Sheffield Hallam University ‘Global Graduates’ Presentation – Video

On Tuesday I had the pleasure to speak at the ‘Global Graduates’ event at Sheffield Hallam University.

The event saw students give presentations on extra-curricular activities that they had participated in all around the world.

I was invited to talk about my recent trip to Kenya. Apologies for the sounds quality:

 

ARTICLE – Balloon Kenya: Sheffield Student’s Advice Helps Businesses Blossom – Sheffield Star Article

Entrepreneurs in Kenya could see their businesses taking off – thanks to support from a Sheffield Hallam University student.

Dan Garlick, a final year business studies student, visited the Kenyan town of Nakuru as part of the global Balloon Kenya scheme.

The 21-year-old was one of 24 students from across the world picked to take part.

He spent six weeks working with a group of 11 local entrepreneurs whose businesses ranged from clothing stores and fruit stalls to shoe shops and motorbike transport services, while another wanted to start an affordable recording studio.

“They all wanted to grow their businesses and improve their standard of living, as some earned as little as £2 per day,” said Dan.

“We wanted to steer them away from the copy-cat culture that you see over there with stalls on every street selling exactly the same products.”

Dan later had the task of preparing his class to pitch their business proposals in a bid for funding.

http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/business/sheffield-student-s-advice-helps-businesses-blossom-1-6128055