Posted by: facetothewind | February 3, 2015

Out and About

Kuala-Lumpur-sunrise

I get up early to service California clients before they leave the office for the day. This is what I wake up to. It twinkles from afar.

I sort of resolved that to survive KL, one has to get out of KL as often as possible (scroll down to previous blog entry). So I’ve been doing some little trips out of the city to Ipoh and Malacca (aka Melaka) both with and without Chuan. Here are some of the photos of the past few weeks as Chinese New Year fast approaches…

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I booked the single room at the Café 1511 Guesthouse in Malacca. It was built in the 1896 as the servants’ quarters of a bigger mansion.

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My tiny room was US$22. The roundtrip bus fare from KL (2-hours each way) is about US$5. So for $37, I got to have a really nice little weekday escape from KL’s madness. The room was perfectly comfortable with aircon. No windows made it especially quiet.

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Chinese New Year is big in Malacca as it is mostly Chinese who live there. The holiday itself isn’t until the 19th but the city streets are already tricked out with red lanterns and everywhere is the sound of tacky (but kinda fun) new year’s music. Seems there’s a new year’s celebration every few months in Malaysia. I’ve witnessed 3 already and I’ve only been here 6 months.

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There’s one spot in town called Harmony Street because it has an Islamic mosque, a Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple.

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There’s a bit of a melange of chanting coming from the various locations.

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I visited my friend Dennis who grew up here but now lives in Oslo, Norway. It was fun to see his delight in how the town has improved and the river walk renovated.

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I can’t say I really like the food of Malacca yet. I haven’t done an exhaustive search for food to my taste, but when the Hard Rock Café looks to have the best menu, things are not good. Fish ball soup and Nyonya laksa (curry laksa) are probably the most popular and ubiquitous dishes in Malacca. And I can’t say I like either of them. If you grow up eating it, I guess I can understand it…I mean I eat blue cheese and honestly, it smells nasty but I love it.

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Curry laksa or Nyonya Laksa which is overspiced, oily, full of unidentified processed fish cakes/balls and usually a hard boiled egg thrown on top.

I’ve been zeroing in on what tastes and smells so bad in the food I’ve eaten in Malaysia. And here it is…

The culprit of the unpleasant smell of food in Malaysia.

The culprit of the unpleasant smell of food in Malaysia.

Belacan (the c is pronounced “ch”) is to blame for that stinky aroma surrounding restaurants here. It’s fermented shrimp paste and it’s in a LOT of foods here. It smells bad, tastes bad, and depending on the brand, can be full of the banned (but still in use) cancer-causing food dye Rhodamine B.

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And well, if you have to rush to the toilet after your over-spiced fishy meal, you might as well enjoy the very groovy one above at Restoran Paranakan — what I think had the best food in town…simple and nicely done bok choy and tofu. No nonsense and no belacan!

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Malacca is a charming place and I intend to be on that bus as often as possible. They’ve had the good sense not to tear down all their old buildings and put in malls. But isn’t it telling that they build this beautiful river walk and there’s no one using it. Dennis and I walked along it and saw very few people until it passed by a horrid modern shopping center that was plunked down right next to a historic Malay village. Of course IT was full of people.

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Here’s a little video encapsulation of the past month or so in KL:

Onward to Ipoh. 

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The classic and crumbling old Kuala Lumpur Station. Hardly used now since they built the new hideousness called KL Sentral. I chose this one as our departure station instead of the new one. You can see how popular history over modernity is.

Chu and I took the train to Ipoh this last weekend. It’s supposed to be a 2-hour ride but turned into nearly 3 as we lost power half way there and sat on the tracks eating leftover home made carrot cake and pumpkin soup.

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All it would take would be a little tap of the sledge hammer at the right spot in that archway and this whole building will come down. Stand back!

Ipoh isn’t as charming or as preserved as Malacca.

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It might be one day, but it’s still kind of scruffy and crumbling and is a mix of modern and old that don’t quite work together very well. It appears to have no city planning department. Catch it before it crumbles.

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Though lacking in the architectural charm of Malacca, it has better food and a hip patronage passing through on their way to Penang perhaps, or on an eating binge from KL. This is the very vintagey Burps and Giggles restaurant in old town Ipoh…

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Their food is pretty good. Some of it is excellent — mostly Western food but it draws a mostly hip Malaysian Chinese clientele. We had a great soft shell crab burger, a rubbery chicken burger, a really nice cheese cake and pistachio gelato with caramelized apples. I also had the fish and chips. It was a Western eating binge to try and fatten myself up a bit. (Everyone seems to think I’m too skinny weighing in at 62.5 kilos = 138 pounds.)

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This is at the Happy Eight restaurant where we went for Chuan’s birthday dinner. I had really good spaghetti with chicken meatballs and he had the seafood carbonara pasta. Both were very nicely done and the space quite fascinating as we sat on top of a fish pond with fish swimming below our feet.

Ipoh also has Plan B – one of the Big Group’s restaurants. The Big Group is to Malaysia what McMenamins is to Portland, Oregon, USA. They like to buy up old buildings and repurpose them and serve mediocre food in a cool setting. Their service is always excellent and so that and the fun atmospheres they create sort of make up for what they lack culinarily. We tried to order a Mojito. Sorry can’t do it. How about a Manhattan? Couldn’t find the sweet vermouth. Then they couldn’t find soda water to make the high ball. So I had a beer. For the trouble they gave us free snacks and birthday cake for Chuan. So all was forgiven and we fed the too-chewy chicken snacks they brought us to the stray cats in the alley on the way back to the hotel.

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Happy 28th birthday, Chuan!

 And a few parting glances…

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Public sign which reads: no improper conduct. You should see the violence shown on Malaysian TV but the love scenes are all edited out.

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Too bad. Love isn’t improper.

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We tried to go to the Hindu festival Thaipusam at the Batu Caves but we couldn’t get on the trains…not even room for skinny me. But they sure looked like they were having fun. We finally left the train station at 1am and went home. 😦

Next stop: Krabi, Thailand for MY birthday!

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Responses

  1. These photographs are beautiful!

  2. What a great video! From monitor lizard to cats to double bill of Mark Allison and Chuan, Malacca, Ipoh, etc.

    What did the brown cat die from?

    Thanks for all, David!

    Love, Dianna

  3. I’ve put Malacca further up on my travel list now. And thanks for the long piano excerpts – with only a few fluffed notes – lovely to make music with you. Belated Happy Birthday to Chuan too…Miss you guys. Forget Krabi and come to Pai instead 🙂


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