Archive for December, 2008

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Surfin’ Now

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Much like every other woman in North America, I have recently read “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert.   I read it reluctantly, mind you, because of any religious parts, but my the members of my ex-book club insisted that there was little focus on “pray” and much focus was devoted to “eat”.   And they were right, I enjoyed the book very much, especially the food descriptions of the time she spent in Italy, eating plates and plates of pasta and two whole pizzas at one sitting.   At any rate, this was the first book I had read that took part (in part) in Bali.   Indonesia was really not high on my list of place to visit until I found myself in a neighbouring country with a few days to spare and a positive and interesting point of reference from Eat, Pray, Love.   From her descriptions, the island was cast in a fairly idyllic light: warm temperatures, easy going lifestyle, friendly people…  oh yes, and one or two spectacular beaches.    So, from KL, we made quick arrangements to zip to Seminyak and spend some time in the sun.

And it was sunny.   And it was hot.


Our $8/night room didn’t come with air-conditioning, so for the 5 days we were there, the only air-conditioning we encountered was in the mall (entered out of desperation for some relief from the heat) and the wee little cube of glass that surrounded the only ATM in the vicinity of our guesthouse.  We took our time whenever an extraction of money was required.   Across the street from the glass cube of cool air is a bar called Mixwell which, it turns out, is a gay bar, but that didn’t stop us from making it our first stop each night for the drinks and people watching.   It was hot as the surface of the sun, so what people wore – or rather didn’t wear – was an amusing topic for derisive comment over tall cocktails in the early evening.



We spent our days learning to surf.   What better place to learn?  Sure, there were rip tide warnings up and down the whole beach, and the current was so strong that my quads were sore just from having waded through the surf to swimable depth-  everybody was doing it.   The guy who rented us our beach chairs offered to teach us in between his naps on the big pile of chaise lounge cushions piled in the shade behind the beach café.  We agreed, mainly because the “lesson” included board rental, and set off into the surf.   Turns out, surfing requires quite a bit of strength and effort.  More strength than I had, apparently, because after several successful “surfs” into shore, my arms were shaky from pushing myself up off my stomach and my knees were bruised and a little raw from weakly dragging along the surface of the board to standing position.   That first day, we lasted about an hour in the water before becoming completely exhausted, and the days that followed didn’t see us get much stronger.    It was alot of fun though, and it beat learning in the frigid waters of Tofino or San Francico.


A Fine Start

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Before we left for Malaysia, I declared that the first thing I wanted to do when we arrived was have an Asian breakfast of hot and spicy soup.  Then I wanted to visit the iconic Petronas Towers of KL.


In reality, we arrived in the afternoon so the spicy soup craving translated into cold Asian beer, and the trip to the towers was less about the view from the 41st floor Skybridge between the towers, and all about our first taste of Malaysian food.   Geoff and Lucinda wisely determined that our introduction to the local cuisine should start with a visit to Little Penang Kafé in the KLCC shopping mall housed at the base of the towers.  Actually, to describe KLCC as a mall is not giving it enough credit;  it is more like The Mall.  Not only is it the base of the city’s most recognizable landmark, it is several floors of tiled, marbled, designer-labeled, brightly-lit haven of cleanliness and air conditioning.   Besides the air-conditioning, Little Penang was the best part.

Still in a bit of a jet-laggy haze, we wove our way through and around traffic (no sidewalks in KL) and found ourselves at a table at the back of the kafe, mouths watering at the welcome suggestions of what we should first eat.   Geoff recommended nasi lemak, which we were to learn is the national dish and can be found everywhere, whether you like it or not:   coconut and pandan flavoured rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Lucinda insisted on whatever it was that turned out to be chicken in sort of long, deep-fried egg rolls.  I’m sure one of us had beef rendang, and wasn’t there a penang rojak to be had?    Geoff shared his char kway teow, flat rice noodles fried over very hot PORK FAT with light and dark soy sauce, chilis, shrimp, sprouts, chives, and fish cake.  Wash this down with more beer and, for Lucinda, a tall glass of freshly-made green apple juice.   Oh Malaysia, no wonder you’re the [self-described] fattest Asian nation-   a country of people who love to eat and who generously lace everything with coconut milk, palm sugar or pork fat;  I will happily aim to fit in!


Monday, December 1st, 2008

Less like laundry, more like architectural detail.


‘Pore Luck

Monday, December 1st, 2008

We had the worst luck in Singapore.   We arrived on a Sunday in Little India when, it turns out, the entire male Indian population of the city throngs to the area to just..   hang out.   Droves, hordes of people cramming the streets, blocking traffic, spilling over the sidewalks, shopping.   In hindsight, it was nothing to worry about, but arriving by bus to a new city late at night, it’s not exactly the calm, welcoming sight one might prefer.

The rooftop bar of our hotel was closed because it was Sunday (I know, the horror) and most restaurants were closed for the same reason.   At least we did find the basic necessities of cold beer and hot, spicy street food which somewhat made up for the “hardships”.


The next morning, as we walked out of the door of the hotel, rain like an open firehouse poured down onto the streets.  We walked 2 kilometers in the wrong direction for breakfast, and then when we gave up and took a taxi to a different place, the food was pretty… gross, actually.   Then we took another taxi to the Asian Civilization Museum only to find out that it was closed on Mondays until 2:00pm.   Thoroughly soaked, we walked through the rain further to find a mall, of which there is no shortage in Singapore.


And still it rained!  We wandered, we window-shopped, we ate fabulous Indonesian food.  We got lost, we found another breakfast place that closed down in front of us for maintenance work, we got splashed by passing cars in the street.   And yet, despite all these wrong turns and foul weather, this place proved to be someplace I could happily live.  It has all the things I love:  good food, a variety of good food, clean streets, wine, warm weather, ocean, and pork belly.  Pork BELLY.   Take this 3-inch think piece of pork, 2 inches of which are fat, sear it and then braise it and serve it with lobster and all of a sudden this is one of my favourite cities.


The Only Answer

Monday, December 1st, 2008

When it is so hot, so hot that your clothes stick to your person, so hot that you linger near the open refrigerator door, so hot that you feel like you need a shower immediately after having taken a shower, so hot that you can’t even remember what it feels like to be comfortably chilly, then a cold beer or cocktail is the only answer.

Geoff invented a drink in Malaysia which involves a double shot of dark rum and a colourful interlude of bright green guava juice.  When trying to think of a name, he remembered a drink that everyone seemed to really like from the hotel he stayed at in Senegal, called the ‘Mandingo’.   It seemed like a lyrical sort of name to apply to a drink and so the rum-guava cocktail was thus named.  Now look that up on Wikipedia.   Too late, that’s the name of the drink, and for vacation-happy-hour, it was always the right answer.   When not drinking at home, we did well to enjoy the upstairs open-air patio of a relatively swanky spot whose name I forget, but where they made an appropriately swanky Negroni.



Shortly thereafter, we were forced to drink Singapore Slings.  Well, maybe not so much forced as obligated;   we were in Singapore for a few days –  a short side-journey from Kuala Lumpur – and had no choice but to try the eponymous drink.    It turns out that though very pretty, I don’t like Singpore Slings.  Too sweet, I prefer a drink as bitter as my soul.


Singpore, however, is a place I could get used to, but more on that later.