Friday, March 25, 2011

Seriously?

In the real, actual morning, we headed off to meet another CouchSurfer, who had offered to drive us to the Batu caves and then around KL. This turned out to be even luckier than we thought, because the shuttle from the train station (where we would have arrived) to the caves was cancelled.

Before we left, we had breakfast at Gwen's, which was a traditional Malaysian breakfast consisting of rice with anchovies, and some egg and cucumber. You can put some spicy sauce on it (which I did, though not in the photo) to make it more flavorful. Alex, Gwen's fiance, brought coffee over from Brazil, and damn that stuff is good.

Now when I hear "caves" I think a huge underground labyrinth, because those are the only kinds of caves I had ever visited before. Not this one. This isn't so much a labyrinth as it is one giant cave that is actually quite high off the ground.


There are something like 270 steps. It is difficult, though I can only speak for people who work out never.

Tip: The best time to come to the caves is in the morning, before it gets too hot. If you come on a Friday, it is also strategic to come before prayers, so you have double the reason to get there before noon. Admission is free.




There are monkeys everywhere. You're not supposed to feed them, but people have ignored that, so now they expect food from everyone. What that means is if you have a plastic bag or anything that looks like it might have food in it, they may try to grab it from you.


After we climbed back down, our "guide" said another CSer would be coming as well, so we waited for her in one of the small restaurants nearby. I ordered masala tea, and we shared roti canai (pronounced chah-nye), tosai, and tosai rawa (which is made from different flour).

Masala tea

Roti canai

Tosai

Tosai Rawa

I know this following comparison is blasphemous, but the masala tea tastes exactly like the spicy black tea from Starbucks with fresh milk added to it. Roti canai is like a flaky sort of pancake, tosai is crispy and salty almost like potato chips, and the tosai rawa is a bit more grainy/mealy and bitter with a slight touch of spice.

After the other CSer came and visited the caves, the four of us set off for the museum about the truly native Malaysian people, or the orang asli, which literally means "original people." However, we arrived to find that it isn't open on Fridays.

Tip: A lot of stuff is closed on Fridays. It is a holy day for both Hindus and Muslims.

As we were driving back into the city for a late lunch, we had to swerve slightly to avoid creating roadkill out of a huge lizard. With the tail, it took up the width of an entire lane.

We had a banana leaf lunch, so named because that is what it's served on. Basically, they put a banana leaf in front of you, and then they just keep putting food on it. I thought they were finished about ten times, only to find that each time there was another side to be added. So I have about fifteen pictures of this, though it is really unnecessary to upload them all unless you want a play-by-play of the order in which they add the sides.

Because banana leaf is vegetarian but none of us are, we also ordered a side of fried chicken and deep-friend mushrooms to share.

Like in Thailand, you eat with your hands. (But no one will think it's offensive or even weird if you ask for utensils.) Unlike in Thailand, the rice here isn't sticky. So in Thailand, where I felt like I was just eating something you dip into sauce, like a mozzarella stick, here every fiber of my being was thinking, "Don't play with your food." It only takes about 30 seconds to get over that though. They say here you eat with your five senses, so touching the food improves your eating experience. It is kind of weird to realize how much of your hand you need to put in your mouth for this method to be effective. But again, you get used to it very quickly.

We ended our meal with some sweets, which I do not have pictures of, but basically they are bars or other shapes made out of different powders pressed together. One was peanut, one was sweet potato, and one was milky.

Tip: Friday is the best day to get banana leaf lunch. Because it is a holy day, portions are very generous. You will be very full.

After lunch, we headed over to a bookstore that the other spelunking CSer wanted to go to, so we hung out there for a while, stopping by a cafe for some horlicks afterward.

Horlicks tastes exactly like your leftover milk does after you've already eaten all your Honey Nut Cheerios. Exactly.

Then Alex and I had to meet up with Gwen for dinner with her friends. We went to a place called Secrets of Louisiana, which is obviously cajun. The location was right by a lake, and their outdoor seating was amazingly nice and comfortable. The service was also really good, which can be hard to find depending on where you are in Asia.


Seafood pasta (using cilantro, so clearly from the fiery depths of hell) and buffalo wings

Pasta with mushrooms and (ridiculously amazing) seafood gumbo

Fish and chips

Jambalaya

Apple crumble and mud pie

The food was SO good. I ate so much that afterward, I actually felt pregnant. As in, I felt that my stomach was displacing my other internal organs and that the elasticity of my skin was being tested. Is it possible to feel a stretch mark forming? My estimate is that I looked around 4 months. And you know how normally you can suck in your stomach? Not even a little possible. My abdomen was actually hard from being so stuffed full of foodstuffs. Unless that's a sign of internal bleeding. It is, after all, in my blood to overeat. (I'm actually not kidding. When she was little, my mom once ate so much rice she tore the lining of her stomach.)

After dinner, we went to a bar called Mandolin to meet up with Gwen's cousin and a bunch of other people.

There were three men in their 40s or 50s one table over who were ridiculously creepy. First, one of them gestured to one of Gwen's friends, who inexplicably humored his request and walked over to see what he wanted. (Note: She is a mother of two, the eldest of whom is 13, although she looks too young for that to be true.) He said god-knows-what to her while not-so-subtly putting his arm around her, and after giving a short response, she returned to our group.

Later on in the evening, another guy from the same table walks over with his camera and is clearly aiming for a photo. (I was not in the shot.) The girls all give each other a look and turn their backs. This guy takes the picture anyway and keeps standing there ready to shoot for when they turn back around. Seriously? Are you that much of an asshole? These girls have literally turned their backs on you. That is the most obvious body language ever. It means: REJECTED. What are you still doing here?

So I put my hand in front of his camera lens and say, "Thank you. Please go back," and gesture toward his table as if I were a tour guide in the land of common decency/a sexual harassment training video. He turns the camera on me, though my hand is still blocking the lens, and I just repeat a few times, "No. Stop. Go back to your table." It's not so much that I mind being in strangers' photos, but I do mind if you are obviously harassing people who have no interest in being recorded as ever having been in the same room as you. I mean, think about what kind of a reflection that is on you. Seriously.

At this point, Gwen's fiance comes over, and he is a big guy. You would not want to get into a tussle with him. It would be like in slapstick comedies where you throw a punch and the only effect is that your fist hurts, whereas all he would have to do is flick your forehead and you'd be out. Somehow this idiot still doesn't get the message and continues to attempt to take pictures. So Alex says something like, "I think that's enough pictures of the girls." And eventually, this guy finally goes back to his table. Although I'm fairly certain he took a few pictures from there.

Seriously.

Do people like this really have to wonder why they're still single? Do they lie in bed thinking, "You know, I'm such a nice guy, a perfect gentleman really. Why does no one want me?" IT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE A DISRESPECTFUL DUMBASS. In fact, you should just go ahead and buy a pair of wedding rings. One for your left hand and one for your right. You'll be very happy together.

Tip: Don't be a creepy asshole.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Yummy in my tummy

Left Penang this morning, where the weather was gorgeous.

Took a bus to Kompleks Komtar, where my host said there'd be an array of bus companies with service to Kuala Lumpur (or KL). I bought a ticket at the first one I saw, because there didn't seem to be that many at least where I was walking, and I had to ask for directions to this place to begin with. The guidebook said the price would be around 28RM, and I paid 35. The bus was really nice though - wide seats that recline really far back, foot and adjustable leg rest, A/C, and not a lot of people.


On the way into KL, I saw these really interesting mountains. I'm assuming they're limestone, but I really don't know well enough to say.


Closer to the city, I saw a man who was hanging out by himself under a bridge. Not at road level, but on top of a hill of concrete leading to a ledge by the vertical support beam. All I could think was that he was a troll. Sadly, I also passed a billboard with the words "Bieber Fever" and a graphic of a radio with Bieber's haircut on top of it. Even more sadly, the ringtone of the middle-aged Asian man sitting behind me was a Bieber song.

Someone on the bus was carrying a Columbia Law School bookbag, and I would have struck up conversation, but I didn't notice it until he was getting off the bus.

When I arrived at the bus stop, my friend said she was about 30-45 minutes out because of traffic, so I walked around to see what I could get to eat. I fairly randomly chose mee bandung (which was described to me as "noodles red color") and sanquit mango without really knowing what either of those things are, but they were both delicious.



The mee bandung made me feel like this was what I had been looking for in Malaysian cuisine. It was just the right amount of spicy and sour, and the ingredients included chicken, shrimp, and a poached egg. The yolk of the egg was sort of solidified because the soup is hot, but it still had the runny sort of flavor, which I really like.

The sanquit mango was really interesting. You can see that there's ice in it, but the bottom of the drink is warm, so when you take your first sip through the straw, it's a surprise.

After my friend picked me up, we went to this roadside strip mall-like area and had some real, authentic satay. The kebabs are about the same, but you get a lot more satay sauce, and it's way more peanuty.


We got home, I took a shower, and we had dinner cooked by my friend's dad. Everything was very typical Malay food, and it was really good. We had fishball soup, some vegetables, Malaysian curry chicken (which is very different from Indian or Thai curry), and a bowl of the freshest, juiciest fruit ever. The pears here are soft and wet, not dry and hard like in the States. There's also guava and this peach-like fruit that I don't know the name of. Amazing.





And yes, I eat a lot.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Penang food = Chinese food?

Last night, we went to this shisha bar in Batu Ferringhi where I had char kwah teow. This is actually just a Chinese dish with some seafood and just a dash of Malaysian spices thrown in, so for me, it was nothing new. It’s made with flat, medium-width noodles and basically just stir-fried with some bean sprouts and whatever else you want to put in. The bar had a nice atmosphere though, with strings of lights and whatnot, plus it was along the shore, so you’ve got the beach in the background.


These guys requested a photo.


The drinks here were too expensive, so we went to a “club” called 69, where a Long Island Iced Tea is 25 RM, as opposed to 40-45 elsewhere, and the glasses were pretty big. Because it was a Tuesday and rainy at that, there were very few people there, but you can tell this is a party place on the weekends, starring the pool set in the middle of the bar. There are also tables and cabanas set up all the way to the shore. I had a chocolate martini, which was delicious, and after we finished our drinks, we came home.



This “morning,” I headed off to the Spice Garden at my host’s recommendation. At first I took the bus too far, but the driver was scheduled to make a U-turn and do the reverse route in a few minutes anyway, so he just let me stay on. This is apparently against policy though, because there were two other foreigners and he kicked them off and made them take another bus travelling the same route that was leaving right away. The driver’s friends seemed to be a little leery and were making what I assume were inappropriate jokes given the looks they were giving and the tone of their voices.

Tip: You need to have exact fare for the bus in Penang or be prepared not to get any change back. (This is not true in Bangkok.) Also, when you pay your bill at a restaurant or bar, it’s very possible that they will skip the sen when giving you your change. So if your bill is 34.50 and you pay with a 50 RM bill, you’ll probably just get 15 back and no coins.

When I got off, I first had lunch at Tree Monkey Café next door. This is not just a gimmicky name; there really are tree monkeys in the trees surrounding the café. Within five minutes of sitting down, I had as many mosquito bites. (Literally – one on each wrist, one on my left thigh, and two on my right.) I pulled out my mosquito repellant, and the waiter gave me their spray-on kind as well. I had pineapple fried rice, which really is just fried rice served in a pineapple with a few bits of pineapple and few cashew nuts thrown in.



After lunch, I went into the Spice Garden (admission 14 RM), which smells amazing. They offer you a map for 5 RM, but I didn’t buy one, and it was fine; the place is not that large, and all trails will eventually lead back to the entrance. The estimated times for completing the trails are also greatly exaggerated. They might be accurate for a family with small children or someone who has difficulty walking, but for any able-bodied individual or small group, you can finish the trails in about half the time suggested. I spent about an hour here, and finished everything without feeling rushed in any way.

Basically, this is a garden that makes you feel like you’re walking through the jungle, if the jungle had manmade waterfalls and steps. The variety of flora really is impressive (for someone coming from a temperate climate). At one point, it started raining a bit, and a tour guide who passed me told me in Chinese that if I was heading up the trail, I should come down as soon as I see any muddy water flowing down, because it means the ground has lost its integrity or something. I was also told to be on alert for small trees falling down if the wind started to pick up. Neither of these things happened, but I never really thought a minor mudslide or falling trees would be things I’d ever have to look out for.

These are the arrows on the ground marking the three different trails; don't look for posted signs. Red is ornamental, orange is spice, and green is jungle.






Notice the safety net below the swing.

My host picked me up after she got off from work, and we had a lively debate in the car over the expressive ability of the English language. We’re both a bit stubborn by nature, so neither of us had any success in convincing the other, but it was interesting to see a different perspective nonetheless. (I think English is capable of describing things beautifully, whereas she thinks it’s a very shallow language that is unable to convey certain things.)

We picked up an Italian CouchSurfer and had dinner at this really cheap but really delicious Chinese place. We ran into two of my host's colleagues, one of whom is an English gentleman, who for some god-awful reason has only been exposed to the central region of the United States. Now I realize there are redeeming qualities to the flyover states, but he said that he was once asked in West Virginia what language they speak in England. I rest my case.

Milk tea, Indian style

Tofu with meat sauce, stir-fried noodles with vegetables, and fried eggplant (which was amazing)

Pretty much everything I've had here other than the laksa has tasted like Chinese food with a tweak so slight it is undetectable. Maybe I'm just eating the wrong things at the wrong places.

Later on, we headed back to 69 for a couple drinks. I walked along the beach, dipping my toes in the sea, and picked up some seashells as souvenirs. The Italian said that pretty much every stereotype saying that all Italian men think about is girls and sex is true. For some reason, I don’t find this particularly surprising.

Tomorrow, I head off to Kuala Lumpur on a bus, so there won’t be too much to write about other than dinner.