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Riley Turns One in Malaysia

Our final full day in Kuala Lumpur AND an extra special day at that! We celebrate Riley’s first birthday in style…or at least in Malaysia.

Our big little guy turned the big ONE today. When Lori’s or my birthday approaches, there’s a distinct feeling that the previous year just flew on by. But not with wee ones. And certainly not with Riley.

Oh no, no. It felt like this dude was never going to turn one.

It’s not his fault. It’s been a pretty eventful year with lots of transitions, so that’s played into it. The first three months of Riley’s life were spent residing with Grammy and Grampy in Oregon. Then, nine months in Laos (four months with daddy/nanny and five months at nursery school), and now, here we are in Malaysia, with a number of little transitions in between.

And zero to one isn’t exactly an easy, breezy year of life. In twelve months you go from this tiny, defenseless and 100% dependent baby-creature to an [almost] walking, [almost] talking, solid-food-eating, opinion-wielding mini-tyrant.

Plus, there’s the big bro factor. One little one is one thing. Two little ones, forget about it. As Lori likes to say, one plus one does not equal two. These days, the two basically feed off of each other.

Before Riley, when Noe was sick or having an off day, he was sick and having an off day, and we turned our attention to addressing that.

Now, if Riley’s sick or having an off day, Noe sees the attention Riley’s getting and…wants a slice of that attention. If Riley’s screaming, Noe mimics it. If Riley’s tosses his water…Noe mimics that too. If Riley’s getting into something he shouldn’t, Noe thinks it’s funny, which of course only encourages his brother to do more naughty things.

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And vice versa.

But, of course, we love our boys, and can’t imagine a world without them. And they can’t seem to imagine a world without each other, which is easy for Riley, since that world’s never existed to him. But for Noe, that’s different.

There’s a lot of ways that this past year could have gone with Noe’s behavior towards Riley. I’m not sure whether it is because they are so close in age or because they’ve had to rely upon each other through all of the transitions, but Noe has only ever absolutely adored his baby brother, and of course Riley thinks Noe’s the best thing ever…or at least a close second to breast milk.

Happy Birthday Riley!

We don’t have any special plans for Riley’s big day. Heck, we’re already in Malaysia, and Riley’s still at that age where not much impresses him (other than food, milk, and a clean diaper). Even without plans, today will be special. In addition to Riley’s birthday, it’s also our last full day in Kuala Lumpur. Tomorrow, we hop a four-hour train to Penang island.

Last night, I came across VCR and knew we had to check it out. Hands down, the best place for a Western breakfast and specialty coffee we’ve come across in KL. And, it’s mere blocks from where we are staying.

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As soon as we sat down, I was handed the coffee menu and suddenly thought it was MY birthday.

Not only did they have seasonal coffees from the best growing regions on the planet, they even listed the process and flavor profile. AND…they offered a choice of pour over, siphon, and Aeropress.

Oh, not to mention the food was awesome.

After breakfast, we wanted to take advantage of the clear skies and slightly cooler temps by going for a walk down to Chinatown. From VCR, we wanted to try to take backroads there, but knew it would be a challenge given that the entire section of KL between Bukit Bintang and Chinatown is under construction. Regardless, we thought we’d give it a shot.

It wasn’t the easiest walk (certainly with a stroller), but we managed.

Our walk got us up close and personal with the Warisan Merdeka 118 tower. Talk about a bizarre construction project. It’s like someone came through here with a massive bulldozer leveling everything within half a kilometer. Then, smack dab in the center, went about constructing Malaysia’s soon-to-be tallest structure and one of the highest high-rises in the world.

It’s easy to be impressed by such a large and ambitious project, but like so many of these megatall skyscrapers, this one’s awash in controversy with an unfortunate history to boot.

Turns out, they didn’t have to do much bulldozing to clear the land for the structure. Prior to groundbreaking in 2014, this was the site of Merdeka Park (People’s Park), Kuala Lumpur’s beloved 36-acre central park.

In previous posts, I’ve gushed a lot about the green space in this city. And when comparing KL to other cities in the region like Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and Vientiane, there’s a lot to gush about.

But the amount of green space is in fact very little compared to the likes of New York City, San Francisco, Paris, and many other major cities around the globe.

Living in Southeast Asia, it’s easy to lose perspective in that sense. It’s also easy to be awed by the enormous and shiny new buildings without stopping to consider the social cost of such projects.

Based on everything I’ve read, most city residents are unimpressed. The last thing they want is yet another megatall skyscraper. They’d just like to have their park back.


Nap time.

A short while later, the road we’re on descends into the historic Chinatown district.


Pedaling Market is often considered the centerpiece of KL’s Chinatown. We weren’t exactly impressed coming here at night in 2018, and our feelings didn’t change much the second time around.

It’s a fairly typical Southeast Asian street market with the typical wares. Nothing too exciting here. But the dozens of red Chinese lanterns hanging from the glass ceiling do punch things up a bit.

Last visit, we peeked around the Guan Di Taoist temple, because you know, when in Chinatown…

This time around, we had our sights set on the Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu temple as the main goal of the morning’s walk.


Lori, covered up with her rental covering and all ready to enter the temple.

Noe’s seen a lot of temples in his young life, but still gets excited to enter and walk around. It seems his favorite activity is sitting still and silent for several minutes and taking it all in — downright bizarre for a toddler, but we’re not complaining. At times he may be a little ruffian, but we’ve never had a problem in a temple. He’s always respectful and curious.

Riley, on the other hand, is still getting the hang of temple touring.

…though, it was helpful that this one offered live music, which kept both boys mesmerized for a good long while.



After leaving the Hindu temple, we continued our walk to Central Market.

As mentioned previously, Noe’s been receiving 1 Ringit bills (~$0.25) anytime he manages to not maim or murder anyone. To my utter astonishment, we’ve gotten through nearly a week here in Malaysia without him committing either. As a result, he’s racked up a nice little collection of Ringit, which he keeps carefully folded and tucked away in his tiny little pants pockets.

As we crossed a busy intersection near the market, Noe began to freak out. He stopped right in the middle of a major thoroughfare and started grabbing frantically at his pants, yelling, “MONEY! MONEY! MONEY!”

The light changed and traffic started to move in our direction. I swept Noe up kicking and screaming, set him down on the sidewalk across the street and went about the business of figuring out what he’d gotten his pants in a bunch over this time (which is no small feat with a toddler).

At first, I thought he’d dropped some of his money, but didn’t see any laying in the road or anywhere else. He was frantically working on his pockets, so I helped him extract one of his Ringit bills. He then opened the bill up and emphatically showed me the face. “Daddy, look!” he said.

“Good job, Noe! You have so much money! You’ve been doing so well!” I told him, not really knowing what else to say or why it was so important that he show me his money in the middle of the street.

“NOOOO, DADDY. LOOK!!!” Noe pointed to the face of the bill, which had a type of stylized bird on it.

I still didn’t get it.

Then, Noe turns around and points up to the huge decorative shield above the entrance to the walking street behind us. Then back to his bill.

Somehow, this little dude had not only noticed the design on the back of the bill at some point, but was able to spot the identical design when we saw it for the first time at the market.

As for dear old dad, I’ve been handling these bills for five days straight and haven’t given a second thought to the design on the back, or the design above the market entrance, until now.

But Noe had, and it absolutely made his day.


I later did a bit of sleuthing and discovered that it is, in fact, a Malaysian kite. We’ll see if we can’t find one somewhere during our visit to take back with us. But that might just send the poor kid over the edge, I’m afraid.

After perusing the market for postcards (and kites), we headed back to the River of Life to get a few quality snaps with the DSLR. I had grand plans for our photo shoot, but as with most things these days, had to settle on what I could get out of our crazy little munchkins.


Ring any bells?

The cover photo for our Kuala Lumpur post in April 2018. Noe was just under two years old.

I wanted a whole slew of photos for Riley’s first birthday. After all, he was dressed so dapper-like, and we had this nice little backdrop to work with.

But if you’ve ever tried to shoot a one-year-old (with a camera, that is), you’ll know it’s no easy task. Particularly in the middle of an urban area, in the mid-morning heat of the tropics, with a toddler nipping at your heals.

But we got a couple of nice ones to commemorate the occasion. We can’t be too picky these days.




After nap time, we headed to the pool at the apartment.

Unfortunately, Riley was suffering from a cold (we are, after all, on vacation — and if you’ve been following the blog for the past year, you know that the kid has a perfect record with regards to getting sick on vacation). So, Riley didn’t get any swim time in on his birthday. Instead, he got to spend an hour walking around outside with daddy.

Noe, on the other hand, finally got his pool time. We had a rough start to the week with moods and weather, but by our last full day in Kuala Lumpur, Noe seemed to catch his footing. He definitely had earned his pool time.

Lori and Noe started  in the kiddie pool, but it wasn’t long until Noe wanted to migrate over to the real deal.

Noe was pretty intent on keeping a good distance from the edge of the pool. From his perspective, it probably looks terrifying…come to think of it, all infinity pools probably look terrifying to toddlers.


Another look at the famously stalled Plaza Rakyat construction project. After two decades of inactivity it looks like there might finally be some action down there.

Back at the apartment, goofing around with my big little Birthday Boy before dinner.

We didn’t really have anything in mind for Riley’s birthday dinner. We don’t really do traditional birthday parties, but like to mark the occasion in some way. And what better way to mark Riley’s first birthday than returning to one of our family’s favorite eateries in KL — Taps Beer Bar. Kid-tested, parent-approved.

Between the two of us over two visits this week (i.e. three flights and a pint), we’ve tried nearly everything on tap. My two favorites might just be the Moon Dog Mack Daddy Dark Ale and the Deep Creek Courage Double IPA (which I ordered for this occasion). Lori enjoyed the witbier and the summer ale.


One of the staff wanted to take Noe outside to dote on. Noe didn’t object. Which meant, we got a few minutes of one-on-one with Riley on his birthday.

For Riley’s first birthday, he got a banana birthday cake. Lucky dog.

Lori made sure to pack with us to Malaysia the same candle that Noe had on his first birthday.


…Riley got to finish his ENTIRE birthday “cake” all by himself!

He was one happy boy.

Yet, another attempt at a birthday shot.

Later, we found ourselves back on Jalan Alor, for one final KL coconut for the boys, and a couple of cheap local draft beers before calling it a night.

Happy Birthday to our awesome little chunkamonk! We love you, buddy!!!


5 October 2019

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Laura Courtney Headley
Laura Courtney Headley

Beautiful photos (as always)! Happy, happy birthday to Riley!


A big happy birthday to your big little Riley!! He is so adorable, and I can’t imagine him ever being unhappy!! Love the picture of Noe with his arm around Riley…