Trip to Oriental Paris – Part 4


(Countdown – 345 days to “doomsday”)

Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
Read Part 3 here

Yes, still continuing with food post…

When one is in China and is having his food, one thing seemed certain – there is plenty of non-halal food and Chinese tea (of various grade and quality) to go around (although fast food and other foreign food seemed to be in favor at certain part of the city especially at the financial district). And there were also the highly nutritious mushrooms.

I realized now that at almost every dish we had for dinner, at least one would be mushroom dish and although we were wary of possibility of mushroom poisoning (being in China), it quickly became our must-have dish every time we have dinner.

Out of the many mushroom dishes we had, the above dish is our favorite – good enough to be eaten on its own, we had once ordered 2 plates of it. The dish was really simple but what makes the huge difference is the type of mushroom they used to cook and the way they cook it – a simple frying of the mushroom with sweet sauce and the juicy broccoli. When eaten it is almost crunchy with a smoother texture added to it and it is not that oily too. I am trying to find the same dish back home but have not seen one yet.

The above baby mushrooms dish was also good for our taste but the portions of the baby mushrooms was too small for us. The other things in the dish – vegetables and tofu somehow made up for the lack of portion.

Mixed vegetables (can’t recall what else was in there) – Shanghaian style – most of the bowls served is small sized, so when the waitresses serve our food, it is often served almost overflowing as you can see above and that makes it a bit delicate when one who is used to eat with spoon & fork, is picking the food (which is often made slippery due to the corn flour) with chopsticks.

Larger chunks of mushrooms and light soy sauce – another pure mushroom dish that we had but this time for lunch (we decided to pool our lunch money and go for cooked dishes instead). Interestingly it was not that salty despite it was rather heavy with the soy sauce (maybe because we had other dishes that compensated the taste or was it the tea that we were having, I am not sure).

Having plenty of vegetables seemed to be a better idea than having meat from an unknown source or fat laden meat – it was “light” on the stomach too. I rarely take mushrooms when in Malaysia – there are not many Malaysian dishes that goes heavily with mushrooms. The only time I encountered mushrooms (often button mushrooms) these days is when we go for Chinese food for dinner (or when one cooks soup at home).

To be continued…

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A-Famosa “Unplugged”


(The very common image of the A Famosa fort in Malacca – something we have seen since we were kids but what is in the inside? What happens if one walks past the famed entrance? Will we be transported to another era? Image source: http://www.maleisure.com)

We went to Malacca for holidays recently – we picked Malacca primarily because we have heard about it, have read about it, we knew it is on the UNESCO’s World Heritage list and in fact, have several times passed through it (couple of years ago) but we had never really stopped and see the heritage places in Malacca.

So we decided for the holidays, we will actually stop and visit the heritage & historical places in Malacca. Sadly accommodation was not up to our expectations but it was my mistake anyway. I should have done more “research” on the so-called 3 star hotel before I booked it. By the time we realized our mistake, it was too late – most of the other better hotels have been fully booked and we even saw people coming over to our hotel looking for rooms to stay for the night, only to be turned away. Anyway we decided not to have our holidays ruined due to a “glitch” in accommodations. After all, we only need it to sleep for the night – we were out early in the morning and only come back late in the evening.

For those who have been to Malacca, you know the drill – the places to visit, the food to eat and things to do. We had done some planning ahead of our trip and basically knew what we were planning to do on daily basis and in a way we did. I say “in a way” because unlike many who ventured into Malacca for the first time, we did not ride on a beca (we rather walked – it was faster and cheaper), we did not buy the ticket to go up the Taming Sari tower (it was raining and I guessed there were nothing much to see from the top with the heavy clouds. Besides, the ticket seemed too expensive – we rather spent it on food and souvenirs), we did not go for the satay celup or the chicken ball rice (the queue was just too long) or the Portuguese food (my wife was not feeling well) but we did go for Peranakan food and a long waited steamboat treat.

And out of the many things we did, we finally managed to visit the famed A-Famosa fort. The reason I say this in an “excited” manner is because all this while, since the day I saw the picture of the fort in Buku Sejarah in my primary school, I only have the seen the front of the fort (or rather the front gate) – the rest of the fort was destroyed by the English in 1806 (and not the Dutch as I always thought in the past). What is inside remained a mystery and only now that question has been answered.

(What the fort looks like in whole on paper back in 1780 before the English decided to destroy it in 1806. Image source: Wikipedia)

(The entrance from the inside – it was empty except for bricks and white mortar – the air seemed stale as if it has been locked from another era)

(The exit reinforced with steel arch – it is a sign of the historical site starting to crumble down, perhaps with the increasing number of visitors trampling on site and change of weather)

(Another angle of the entrance close up – it looks clean but rather very narrow. Perhaps it was meant to be so 400-500 years ago when narrow entrance was easier to be defended against a more weaker rebels)

Yes in the end, there was nothing but only bricks and mortar (and an old man with a violin). But it was satisfying – I touched the bricks and imagined the Portuguese and the Dutch in the old Malacca with the full glory of the Malacca Sultanate with its famous warriors like Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat facing each other in the background. I imagined the guards staying at the front manning the cannons. Perhaps in time, someone will recreate the fort as whole – in its glorious days for the future generation. That would be interesting indeed.

If one wants to see the so-called 1Malaysia in a true sense from the historical pages – Malacca seems to be the place. Malaysian in many form, culture and background – Malays, Chinese, Indians,  Baba-Nyonya, and Portuguese descendants and yes, count the Singaporeans, Indonesians and Bangladeshis in as well – there were more Singapore registered cars than Malaysia registered cars at the hotel car lot. There were plenty of cars in the city indeed – made worse by the long public holidays.

Traffic was bad but it all depends on how far is the hotel from the heritage and historical places. Walking around town would be the best but if there is a kid tagging along (like in our case), struck that out. Taxi on the other hand was way too expensive (we were taken for a ride on the first day – a short trip cost us RM10). So we opted to drive instead – that solved one problem but created another – where to park especially along the narrow one way streets with limited parking lots dotted along in Malacca. We parked far and did some walking – thankfully my son was up to it – especially when we decided to go to Jonker Walk.

It was a good trip and we have promised ourselves for another trip to Malacca very soon – but this time with a better hotel of course and perhaps do things that we opted to miss in this trip (more on food than others).

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Trip to Oriental Paris – Part 3


(The next couple of posts in this series will be on food – my favorite whenever I travel, no doubt)

Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here

(My very first dish in Shanghai – I opted for something familiar, rice and chicken with beans and cold salad. It was good but I then realized my mistake – the weather was cold but the food was not warm enough. No wonder others were having the hot bowl of noodles and soup)

One that things that often fascinates me when I travel is the local culture and way of life and one good way to experience this is through the local food. The same goes when friends from overseas come over for a visit to Malaysia (how we love the hot teh-tarik and roti canai banjir by the road side at 2 in the morning).

Over the years, from initially sticking to more well-known food (read fast food from well-known brands); I have learned that one (sometimes) need to be adventures enough to trying the local sampling (beers included) – jelly fish in noodles, oily lumps of mutton, kebabs, locally made plain yoghurt drinks, etc and it is the same thing for this trip. And being in China, one cannot run away from noodles, soup and non-halal stuff. We can find the same thing in Malaysia but there is some difference in taste, presentation and portion. We got smaller portions in Malaysia.

(The morning breakfast was rather tame and safe – a good spread of more western and oriental tuned food at the hotel breakfast buffet)

On the very first day we arrived, we decided to go for a local dish – a bowl of noodles and as the weather starting to cold down, made it more sense to order hot bowl of noodle soup. We walked out and a couple of meters of walk, we stopped by a small shop by the roadside. The interior was clean and because it was crowded and seeing a foreigner in the crowd, I guess, the shop owner led us towards the kitchen and out to a small backyard where the waiters quickly setup the chairs and tables for us (it was a big group).

I dreaded the “backyard” – we all know how dirty some of the restaurants backyard in Malaysia. But surprisingly the backyard was clean and from where I was sitting, I also noticed that the kitchen (where they cooked) was clean as well. I later realized that by local customs, the restaurant normally does not take order for drinks first – they take the order for food and only if we need something to drink, we ask for it. It is not like in Malaysia where you will be asked on your drinks first, then only the food.

We asked for something to drink and the waiter served us warm water – a far cry from the usual iced Milo back home. Other than warm water, the usual drink that is more common here is a pot of Chinese tea with small cups to go around. You can also get iced coffee and cappuccinos, etc from the many convenient stores but it is not so common in restaurants.

(A bowl of hot Noodle soup is one the best thing on a cold day – the portions were indeed more than usual – so is the price – but overall the taste was manageable)

We pay upfront for the food – my colleagues were kind enough to translate the menu for me but still, it all sounded the same. I opted for an easy one on my first day here – rice and chicken (instead of noodles). On the second day, I braved myself for a hot bowl of noodles and soup.

The portion for noodles was bigger than what I had expected. The soup smelled different but the taste was alright (I did not get that raw taste of mono-sodium glutamate). The noodles were soft and somehow felt more slippery than the usual noodles I had. Perhaps it is how the noodles were made here. Perhaps it is just how it is cooked here – damn, I was already missing the noodles back home. But the consoling factor was that this restaurant (and most restaurants) is that they have this small bottle of chillies to be added into the soups and this chilli is really spicy – much better than chillies that we get back at home.

To be continued…

Trip to Oriental Paris – Part 1


(Part 1 of many parts, I hope)

(The flight was full but I was looking forward to the trip with a good selection of on-demand movies to kill the time. MAS’ inflight service and food was tip-top as usual, something that holds an edge over other airlines)

It literally started with a BANG!

Another overseas trip and I was kind of “ok” of missing Deepavali again. I was packing my luggage and somehow realized that I did not pack my toothpaste (ya, of all things!). I checked my drawer and realized that we have run out “travel sized” toothpaste. The fact that I will be staying in a 4 star hotel where they provide complimentary tooth paste on daily basis or I can always buy one at the nearest convenience store did not occur to me. I looked at my watch – there was 4 hours to kill before I need to head to the airport.

So, I decided to go and buy myself toothpaste and just as I was leaving the house, my son ran up and wanted to follow me (I guess he is already missing me). So there we were after buying that all important toothpaste, in the car chatting and listening to good music when we neared a junction. There was an old beat up Wira at the front. I waited for the car to exit the junction and somehow I kept looking towards my right. I saw there was a gap in the traffic and decided that the car at the front had exited and foolishly pressed on the accelerator. BIG MISTAKE! The bugger did not move at all and all I heard was a loud bang.

Damn! My first accident on my new car and it was due to a simple silly mistake (or rather toothpaste). I came out after telling my son to sit still in the car. First thing I looked at was the other car’s bumper (I was dreadful to see the damage on my car). The damage was not that bad and being a Wira, the bumper clip had come out and I knew that it could be easily fixed. The driver came out – an old man and he looked at the bumper and started to exaggerate the damage – he said the whole bumper had gone under his car but I was not buying it (I admit that it was my fault and I was willing to pay for the damage but not to the extend that I was willing to be taken for a “ride”)

Then I turn to look at damage on my car and I got a shock. Not a scratch at all. At bit of the bumper plastic came out of place but I managed to fix that in back (I later realized that 2 bumper clips had came out as well but it was not that obvious). We exchanged some details but surprisingly the other driver did not take down the most important details of all – my phone number.

As I am rushing for the airport now, I decided to take him to the nearest workshop which I knew. I went over and had a “friendly” chat with the workshop owner and discussed the cost to repair the damage – the whole thing was settled for RM60. I paid the owner the money and told the driver that he will get his “already damaged before this accident” bumper fixed. Then I rushed back to the house, threw the bloody toothpaste into the luggage and went down to put the bag into the car. I double checked my car for any more damage but nothing bad was visible from the front. I need to check this again when I take my car for the next service. But it was painful indeed, very painful.

Made it to the airport in good time and met up with a colleague of mine who was traveling with me. Body wise, I was at the airport but my mind was elsewhere – wondering if I could have turn back the time and avoided the accident. But you know what the most painful part of the whole journey was – I never used the toothpaste that I bought in Malaysia. It was not a good start that I hoped for but for now, I was looking forward to the 5 ½ hours journey and almost a month long stay in Shanghai – the Oriental Paris.

To be continued…

Craziest Thing 2011 – Part 2


Read first:-

We have reached Kota Bahru way ahead of our targeted time – we reached at 11.36 am instead of the targeted 2.00 pm. We were happy but I guess we were lucky too – there was less heavy traffic in the morning and we could have done better if we had prior experience through the old road.

(“Membangun bersama Islam” – Growth through Islam – was the slogan of the day as we entered the state of Kelantan. PAS still holding to the seat of the State Government despite the slow creep of modernization to the State)

First thing first, we had to buy something for our colleague at the hospital. Being new in town, we decided not to wonder around and instead looked for the nearest supermarket. We saw one, it looked big enough to be called as a supermarket. We went in, not really sure what to buy for a friend in the hospital, battling cancer. We decided to buy some fruits – there was not much choice left. A1 commented that the onions were cheaper here than in the hypermarket near his house. There were less people in the supermarket, probably Sunday being a working day in Kota Bahru.

We headed back to the hospital but spent almost 20 minutes looking for a parking spot. Such a big modern hospital but no enough parking bays – some even double parked whilst the rest took the easy route of parking along the main road. A large portion of the paid car park lots was being used up by taxi drivers. We were about to give up when we saw a car pulling out from the parking lot. We rushed and managed to park just in time before 3 other cars headed the same way. The hospital administrators should seriously consider building multiple story car park at the empty spot at the back.

(Hard to miss icon of the town – the Sultan Ismail Petra Arch. Unfortunately we were chasing time, so we did not stop at this place for photo shooting but silently we promised ourselves that we will stop by the next we are in town again)

A1 was wearing short pants and as we walked towards the ward, A1 got concerned. He did not see anyone else wearing short pants and he was getting a strange looks from some of the people in the hospital. The state of Kelantan was governed by PAS who rule the state in more Islamic way than the rest of the states in Malaysia. Perhaps it was impolite to wear short pants in public but A1 decided to ignore the cold strange looks. He had no other choice – that was the only pants he had. We were a bit early for visitor’s visiting time but after the guards took one look at us – it was clear we were not locals (perhaps A1’s short pants made some difference), they simply let us in without much questions.

We met our colleague in the ward and after sometime, realized that time was now 1 pm. We were hungry and we also knew that we could not stay long in Kota Bahru if we intend to return home the same day. We wanted to eat nasi dagang but as we drove along the town, we could not find the right place to stop and eat. We were late too. We then found one place but there was no nasi dagang on the menu but they had nasi kukus. We decided to go for it – the sound from the stomach was just getting louder. Food was cheap and tasty (I respect the chef for the spicy dishes) despite the restaurant was small and had no one else but us.

(For a first timer, it was quite difficult to locate this place – road sign is not clear and we had to ask a traffic policeman for directions. Despite a favorite place, parking was difficult too)

There was one more place to stop by before we headed back – 454 km back to Kuala Lumpur. We wanted to leave KB by 2.30 pm so that we can reach early enough for some sleep for work the next day. We had to stop for shopping for some Kelantan seafood chips at the famed Siti Khatijah Market. Despite having GPS onboard, we got lost. We wondered around and stopped a traffic policeman who on a bike at a junction. Parking once again was a problem near the famed market but we found one in time.

When we walked into the market – it looked deserted with most of the shops closed. We thought we were late and almost counted our bad luck when we asked someone and we were asked to go to the first floor. We rushed up and saw shop after shop selling crackers and the local foodstuff. We bought plenty of seafood stuff for home and then we rushed back to the car – our mission was half way done and we need to make the trip back.

The clouds now looked heavy now. So far we have been having good weather from the start – a bit of rain in KL but a great sunshine towards KB.

Kojak Time 2


It is T plus 3 days

(The look from my son’s clean shaven head as I hovered over it to take this snapshot of him doing some English exercise)

It was a good trip up North and I kind of felt “renewed” after a complete shave of the head (ha, I am thinking like Captain Jean Luc Picard too). The only downside of having a bare head is that it gets too cold up there in a fully air conditioned room.

Plenty to write and photos of the experience and the trip – that post should be up here in the next few days, so please bear with me as I clear my outstanding chores. Plus, I have a fight to pick with some reckless Livina drivers.

Damn, it is cold!

To be continued…

Chennai Trip – Part 1


The travel to Chennai, India, to be very frank, started with a biased mind.

Biased because I did not get my facts straight and failed to acknowledge that a lot of things have changed in the last few years. I still recall Russell Peter’s joke when he visited India – he said that when he stepped out the plane, the very first thing that he noticed is the smell. He said that he changed into a Canadian so fast when that happened. I still recall someone mentioned huge rats running about the old airport in Chennai and imagined the horror of dirty and smelly streets. Then I also read about Visithra’s nightmare with hired car driver in Chennai and imagined the same happening to me.

Yes, I was biased but given the urge for a week visit to the land of mystery, I decided to go on nonetheless. I was glad that I was proven so wrong after I stepped in Chennai.

(Our transport from Chennai International Airport to the apartment – it was large enough to hold 8 people and 6 large luggages. Photo taken on camera phone hence the poor quality)

The flight to Chennai was a night flight but despite arriving early at KLIA, we could not get the window seat for the big-boss (who was looking forward on this trip). The flight to Chennai was full and we were kind of lucky to get seats in the same row. The big boss was disappointed, not able to view the outside but that disappointment quickly drowned out once he had sat down on his designated seat and the plane started to make its way to the runway for the 3 and half hours flight to Chennai (he being sleepy helped too).

We took MAS so service was top-notch as expected. But despite that, we still had idiots who brought in large bags into the cabin instead of checking them in but the MAS cabin crew managed to stow them away from sight. The MAS cabin crew also managed to keep the service at the highest level by providing beverages (of all types) throughout the flight.

Unlike the bad service with Iran Air, the calls for fresh water were responded without much delay. The A330-200 Airbus did not have the video on call facilities but we did not complain – the quality of shows provided was reasonable enough to pass the time. Dinner provided on time but it was nothing to shout about – after all we were in the Economy class.

Flying on MAS made us feeling proud to be Malaysian especially when there were more foreigners in the same flight and they too were impressed with “Malaysian Hospitality”.

(I almost had my jaws dropped when seeing the airport taxis are consists of Toyota Innova premium MPVs – I did not get the chance to check the price as we already made prior arrangements for transport. The parking was a bit chaotic but noticed the drivers were extra careful)

After a 3 and half hours flying, we touched down on Chennai International Airport – almost at about 11 pm and once again, we were confronted with idiots who don’t understand simple instructions in English – “wait until the plane comes to a complete stop”. As I stepped out from the plane, I remembered Russell Peter’s jokes but to my surprise, there no such foul odours up in the air.

The airport was clean but despite it being a “new” airport, age was showing up at some part of the airport, namely the immigration check-point (it almost looked like a make-shift stall) and at the arrival hall. The officials were strict but managed to smile seeing my son asking a lot of questions about this strange country. Baggage claim was flawless but it was not smooth – we were one of the last to get our bags. As we stepped out, our relations in Chennai was already standing by to greet us.

We walked out, still disbelieved that we have landed in India and only after seeing a polished Ambassador car at the front, we knew for sure that we are in India.

(Roads are clean and well managed – something that is expected of in a large city like Chennai. The Ambassador car is fast becoming an extinct model especially when there is plenty of modern cars in the city)

And how things have changed – instead of Ambassador taxis and speedy crazy autos, we had flashy Toyota Innovas as the airport taxis and loads of 4 wheel drives (of many models), Hondas, Suzukis and Toyotas at the front waiting for the newly arrivals. There was a lonely Mercedes Benz at the front too. It was a bit chaotic (many things may have changed but poor planning still prevails in many aspect of the city administration) before we managed get hold on our transport (a white TATA 4 wheel drive).

Once we got our transport and managed to squeeze ourselves in the small passenger compartment, we headed to the apartment for late supper and a much needed sleep.

To be continued in Part 2….