Travel

May 2013: 1 week in Malaysia

As usual everytime I go back to Malaysia, I will try to meet up with my friends as many as I could. Asians love food and so all my meetups were during breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. As age caught up with me, I couldn’t quite last till supper time.

It seems that Yuzu Japanese restaurant at The Gardens, Mid Valley. This was the 2nd time, although I have heard about it even before I first visited the restaurant in my last visit in Feb. My husband went there before me when he met up with his ex-boss who ordered a big fish and a boat of sushi amongst other things listed on the menu. The final bill was a whopping MYR600! I couldn’t quite fathom the reason of such a high bill.

My husband had to go there 2 days in a row when I met-up with my school best friend.

Going there again with another group of friend and bigger group of friends allowed me to sample more food than the first time. We ordered mixed maki but to share out with 6 people, I don’t think that were quite enough maki.

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The highlight for me is the fresh catch of the day, mixed sashimi of 5 fishes. Salmon, Ember Jack which we all made fun as Amber Chia, thanks to a member of the staff who couldn’t quite pronounce it correctly, tuna, yellow fin, and finally salmon belly. The sashimi and the wasabi were really fresh.

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My fellow Malaysian friends weren’t very enthusiastic when I suggested to order a side salad. Thankfully there were 2 of them who appreciated it and so I happily ordered the avocado, ichijiku (figs) and octopus salad with miso salad dressing. I enjoyed the salad the most.

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Back to my hometown, Ipoh. I always think Ipoh is famous for many other food although most of non-Ipohan flock to Ipoh to eat beansprouts chicken, eat the most expensive taufu fah you could ever find in Ipoh and take away salt baked chickens. For example, the following “kuih” is a little jewel I uncovered in my trip home this time. The top layer is sago or tapioca (green coloured) followed by cassava (yellow colour) and at the bottom, sweet potato (purple). No colouring or flavouring added as the aroma of the cassava complementing the soft texture of the sweet potato and tapioca. Yums! And that is just for MYR2! All home made by the seller. Honest food!

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Another highlight for me in Ipoh was this Seremban Grilled Crab at The Crab House Restaurant, Ipoh in Ipoh Garden East  (32, Laluan Perajurit 1, Taman Ipoh Timur, 31400 Ipoh, Perak). Thanks to my younger brother for treating us this delicious meal and took the effort to book a table in advance, even during a week day dinner. The claws of the crabs were as big as my palm. Meaty and deliciously marinated, it was definitely joy in heaven. Crabs of the crabs! The last time I had such meaty crabs were when I was in Singapore in Feb when my friend took my husband and I to a crab place in Ang Mo Kio. We queued for about 30 mins, even though we were there fairly early at 5 pm! For dinner!! Ok, it was a Sat so definitely it was busy. But I didn’t expect to be THAT busy even at 5 pm! Now that I found this place, I have no reason to go to Singapore to queue for that crabs! And really I think these crabs were made beautifully and better than Singapore.

We ordered two ways of crabs, one was marmite, and another one was Seremban Grilled Crabs. In fact, I thought it wasn’t enough with one Seremban Grilled Crabs that I ordered another one after we had the first one.

This is Marmite Crab, unlike most of restaurants tend to make this rather sweet, Crab House Restaurant actually retains most of the marmite taste, salty but not overly salty. In fact for the first time I could taste marmite.

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This is the Seremban Grilled Crab. At first I thought this was marmite as mentioned earlier, it looked sweeter and like any other marmite crabs I have had before. It turned out their signature crab is better than marmite although their marmite crab is commendable too.

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Each crab cost about MYR80. Expensive? Nay, if you see the size and taste it. I think it worths the price!

Hope I’ll be able to go and try this again next time I go home and they will retain the same level of quality!

 

Categories: Food, Malaysia | Leave a comment

Shoryu Ramen – A Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen Specialist

I went out with my high school friend, Cathy, who is also my regular hangout mate in London, last Thurs to register as an election voter for our home country. She suggested after the registration we should go to a newly opened Japanese restaurant in London, which she found out on an article in a newspaper few days ago. What captured her attention was the broth. The broth is not only cooked with pork bones, but also with an added and to some, perhaps an unusual ingredient, pig heads with brains intact. Accordingly, brains will melt in the soup and hence thicken the broth further. I tried to look online for quotation of this claim, but failed to do so. So I think I’ll just keep it as pork bones broth.

When I first looked at the menu, everything seems to end with tonkatsu. However a second look at the menu, I realised that it is actually tonkotsu, with an “o” between k and t istead of an “a”. Tonkotsu is broth made with pork bones. On the menu, there is an introduction of where Hakata is and the main selling point of this restaurant and noodles.

Hakata is a district in Fukuoka City, and Japanese centre has purposely hired a chef from the region to bring authentic Hakata tonkotsu taste to London. Well I wouldn’t know if that is indeed the authentic taste of Fukuoka as the ingredients would be sourced locally if freshness is one of their top agenda.  However the fact that they bring in a chef who is borned and raised in Hakata would definitely be able to maintain the authenticity of the taste. So despite the fact that I haven’t been to Hakata, I can only use the ruler of my usual taste preference as an Ipoh girl and some knowledge from my passion for cooking.

The drink

Let’s start with the drink we ordered, i.e. soba cha tea or buckwheat tea. A decaffeinated tea, served in a pot with 2 small oriental tea cups. Just the way how I like my tea instead of teabag in a cup. The teapot is interesting, almost like chinese pot to boil chinees medicine or herbs.

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I am also curious as to what exactly buckwheat tea looks like, and so here’s a picture of what is inside the tea pot. It is indeed a pot full of buckwheat instead of the normal tea leaves.

The first sip was almost like eating buckwheat, nutty and wheaty yet aromatic. It reminds me of brown rice tea, less the roasting taste. Overall I prefer buckwheat than brown rice tea.

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The starter

We agreed to order Kimchi as our starter/ side dish, however I was speechless for few seconds when I ordered this. I didn’t expect to be asked wehther I would like to have just kimchi as topping or served with tofu. And Cathy has stepped away to the ladies. So, considering that Cathy is pregnant and requires calcium, so I took the liberty to order with tofu. Which I am glad I did so as I never thought of combining these two delightful dishes. The tofu is soft and full of soya taste , though bland in taste, it just goes perfectly well with the spicy kimchi. The kimchi is slightly skewered towards the salty radar rather than sour but again it marries well with the bland but aromatic tofu. Though I am quite happy to just eat the tofu.

On the menu, you can find this under side dishes/ starter as Kimchi Kinugoshi Tofu sold at £4.50 per serving. Kimchi as topping is sold at £2.50 per serving, which can be found under Extra Topping on the menu.

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The mains

While we were happily tucking away in our starter, soon the first main dish was served (although the waiter did make a mistake by serving us two bowls of Dracula Tonkotsu). Cathy ordered Shoryu signature ramen, i.e. Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu whilst I ordered its recommended Dracula Tonkotsu.

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Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu, as narrated on the menu, is ramen in tonkotsu and miso broth, with added spinach and garlic. From my experience of boiling pork bones soup, I roughly know what to expect, at least the colour of the broth. So the first look of the colour of broth didn’t surprise me, i.e. milky white. I couldn’t wait to taste the broth to determine whether is is boiled with a lot of pork bones or just enhanced with MSG. The colour test has passed, milky white to be concluded that it is boiled with a lot of bones and that other secret ingredients. The next test would be the taste. I was expecting heavy pork smell as I do find that porks in England has some smell that I don’t find it in Malaysia pork. I can’t quite describe how is that different to Malaysia pork but I supposed it lies in the food they eat.

The taste of this broth is totally different to the soup I made using just pork bones I bought from Chinese or local supermarkets. It doesn’t have that distinctive smell and taste I found in porks sold in England. And unlike pork noodles soup I had in Malaysia, this broth is sweeter and to be honest, I am more than happy to just drink the broth than eating the noodle. Most of Malaysian pork noodles soup are heavy handed with MSG and since I have lived in England, I can’t drink the soup of any soup-based noodle anymore. Otherwise, I find myself full by drinking water before I can finish my bowl of noodles. Or my tongue will be numb by too much MSG. That will also be the ultimate test of this tonkotsu ramen.

We have also unwillingly opted out the half boiled egg since I don’t take runny yolks and Cathy is not supposed to eat anything that is raw or half cooked. We tried to convince the waitress to hard-boil the eggs, but she refused to as the eggs are pre-cooked, and they can’t change it.

Now my order of Dracula Tonkotsu, it looks somewhat similar to the signature dish. From the first glance, the only difference seems to be the pickled ginger, the pinkish-purplish strips on top of the noodle. The colour of the broth is somewhat similar to Ganso tonkotsu, creamy white broth. The dish is further apart when we took the first taste of the broth.

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Whilst Ganso tonkotsu is sweet from the pork bones, Dracula Tonkotsu is slightly sourish. My best bet was because of the pickled ginger. A read of the menu again “deep roasted tones from caramelised black garlic mayu, balsamic vinegar and garlic chips”. So the sourish taste of the broth is more than just pickled ginger but also balsamic vinegar. It definitey suits my tastebud than Ganso tonkotsu as the sourish taste cut through the heavy milky broth and it makes me want to drink more and more of the broth. Again I am happy to just drink the soup than eating the noodles.

Another difference both Cathy and I noted was the cuts of the porks served in the noodles. In the Dracula tonkotsu, each slice of pork consists of 5 layers of meat and fat. I think it is pork belly. As for Ganso tonkotsu, we noted that only 10% of the pork is fat and the rest is meat. It must be either pork shoulder or loin to go with the dish. I will definitely validate this in my next visit to Shoryu Ramen. Accordingly those who knows how to eat will appreciate the 5 layers of meat and fat, however as I am conscious of my waste line, to certain extent, I only ate the meat layer, leaving the fat layers on a side plate. I can hear “tsk, tsk, tsk” upon reading the last sentence!

The ramen noodles – well I am not an expert in ramen noodles, however I was expecting someting more springy or al-dente. The noodles are rather soft and “doughier” than I would like my noodle to be. This makes me want to drink the soup only rather than eating the noodle.

Here’s a another snapshot of what have been served on our table:

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The dessert

We ended our lunch with a slice of Cheese Soufle Cake. It is cheesecake ultimately and it is light and fluffy, just what you would have expected for a souffle texture. I however was quite full and conscious that I shouldn’t take too much dairy based food, so I let Cathy finished the cake. She on the other hand, needs a lot of calcium for herself and baby in her tummy. I have forgotten to take a picture of the cake as when it was served, I was on the phone and Cathy couldn’t wait for me and helped herself to it.

How to get there:

The restaurant is tucked in the heart of London strategically by the Piccadilly Circus Station, exit number 3, if my memory serves me right. It should be the exit opposite LilyWhite, the big digital advertisement boad, and you should be able to see a Pizza Hut upon exiting the underground station. There is also a Tesco along the way and it is actually located in between The Flight Centre and Ryman Stationery shop. The predecessor of this restaurant was a Spanish Tapas restaurant. There is also map on the website and it is quite accurate.  All you have to do is to look up for no 9!

http://www.shoryuramen.com/

The Final Test

Well, as mentioned, I am particular with food seasoned with MSG. A hint of it will leave my mouth taste funny wanting to drink water. So does Shoryu Ramen pass the test? I didn’t verify with the chefs or anyone who works in the restaurant but only relying on my tongue. After finishing my bowl of Dracula Tonkotsu, it first left my mouth with garlic taste, as it is with garlic chips. Brilliant! Then I did feel the urge wanting to drink water, probably about 10-15 mins after finished my bowl of noodle. It is the thirst due to MSG. So I think they do put MSG in the broth but not a lot.

Will I go back and eat again? I will but not for the same dish anymore. I am curious of the Fire and Ice Salmon Tsukemen and there are other questions as mentioned above, that I would like to ask the waitresses or waiters to validate my guesses.I just hope they wouldn’t mind to give me an answer!

Categories: Food, Japanese, London | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Santa Grand Lai Chun Yuen Hotel in Chinatown Singapore

When my husband found this hotel I was sceptical as the Chinese name Lai Chun Yuen resonance the olden times brothel house in China. He showed me the pictures on Trip Advisor and I was slightly convinced. Obviously it looks much better than most of Hotel 81 in Singapore although I haven’t stayed in one before. In Asia any hotels on the old wooden shoplots are normally not hotels but motels. And it tends to be cheap and dirty or worn out. I agreed to Lai Chun Yuen due to the fact that it is relatively new.

I also didn’t realise it was quite expensive. For a £70 a night in Singapore is probably considered mid range. Perhaps a 3-star rating hotel.

The location is just a street away from the Chinatown MRT station and there are 2 entrances to the hotel. The rear door is facing a row of hawker stalls. Along the shops where the front door is there is a dessert shop which were crowded when we saw it yesterday.

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The first thing we saw when we entered from the front door is a yellow costume once worn by China emperors framed and hang up for display. It does give me an eerie feeling as everything else is red. Turning a corner we saw the front desk for check in and the lounge is tastefully decorated without losing its original theatre built up. Obviously there are no theatre chairs anymore.

Despite the impressive decoration I was a bit disappointed with the service given by the front desk. It was not that they have been rude but lacking the hospitality required for hotels and front desk in my opinion would deduct some points.

After an approximately 10 mins we were issued our room card key and were led by another staff to our room. We were given a room on the highest level which is on the 2nd floor. In most of Europe hotels there won’t be any escalators or lifts but just stairs. I am grateful that there are escalators as it would be even more difficult if we had more luggage.

Along the escalators there are pictures of different opera characters and hats of the characters. Information about the history of Chinese Opera is also written in a few boards so that as the hotel guests walk towards their room could understand and perhaps appreciate this long historical art a bit better.

Without my realisation we reached our room. Aside from the ordinary room number it is also marked with “Scholar” on the door.

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We waved the card to enter the room but I was gutted to see the size of the room. There are 2 single beds arranged in a L shape with the toilet in between. It is probably just 200 sq meter. Then again hotels in Singapore is expensive and you won’t get the size as in Malaysia or China.

The next morning we went for breakfast at the little cafe turned pub at night. We were warmly greeted by a Singaporean Chinese Aunty and asked whether we would like to have coffee or tea. Probably the best customer service I had in Singapore. The breakfast is just normal English breakfast minus the hash brown, black pudding and mushroom.

All in all I did enjoy my one night stay in this hotel.

The following pictures are some of the explanation about the chinese opera hung on the walls throughout the hotel.

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http://www.santagrandhotels.com/chinatown.asp

Categories: Culture, Life, Singapore, Travel | Leave a comment

Road trip from north to south Malaysia

It has been awhile since I made any road trip from my hometown, Ipoh to Johor and Singapore. In fact ever since I migrated to London I hardly do any road trips whenever I am back to Malaysia.

It was more than 20 years ago when I first did a road trip to Johor and Singapore. My father worked in Johor after spending few years in the States as an illegal immigrant. Back in 80s “jump aeroplane” as it was widely known amongst those who had made it to few of the popular countries such as US, UK, Japan, etc as an illegal immigrant seemed to be the only way out. I was young but apprehended the idea when mom and dad told us that he will be going to New York. I had no idea how far that was but knew that I won’t be able to see him for a very long time.

During those few years he was working in The States, I remembered my uncle would cycled to our house in the middle of the night to alert us when my father called back. Yes telephone was almost a luxury and not a necessity back then. As it was not as affordable we would opt for not having it than now when almost everyone is either the camp of iPhone or Samsung. This didn’t last long as mom finally decided that a phone was a must for my father to contact us.

Fast forward to 5 years later my father finally had to come back as his passport was expiring. He however did not made it home but had to work and stay in Johor. At least we could go and visit him with an overnight bus ride. It wasn’t a joy as I recalled I would woke up several times during the journey as the buses were normally swayed ferociously from left to right and at times forward.

I no longer go to Singapore or Johor by bus anymore. In fact this is my first trip by car. And I have been to Singapore for few times now. But no trips could compete to those yesteryears rides with my mom and brothers and sister.

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Believe it or not? Some creepy practice in most of Asian countries

My colleague and I arrived at Shanghai on Sun after a 10-hours direct flight from London. The flight was delayed 3 hours but it was grand from my point of view, as I could stayed another 3 hours at home. Upon arrival, our Chinese colleague came to pick us up and we hit the road straight away to Shaoxing. Shaoxing is in Jiangxi province and accordingly is one of the richest provinces in China.

We were sent to Xianheng Hotel, a local 5-star hotel, at a charge rate of only £45 per night! This includes free breakfasts, internet,  laundries and pressings. Most of Asian hotels have big spacious rooms and luxurious service.

We stayed at this hotel last year and was quite satisfied with the conditions. However as we arrived on Sun, we found out that level 13 to 15 are undergoing renovation and therefore both my colleague and I were offered a room each on the 17th floor. As I don’t smoke and my colleague does, so I have asked for another floor that is smoke-free. They dare not offer me the 16th floor in case the drilling and hammering noise will be too loud for me. There are only 18 floors in this hotel (or may 16 since any number with number “4” will be omitted as this number is viewed as not auspicious from Chinese point of view).  The higher it is, the bigger the rooms are I presume and so I didn’t bother to ask for lower levels.

The front-desk customer service offered to show me both rooms and let me decide which one I prefer to take. So she took me to both rooms. While I was busy chatting with her, I barely paid any attention to what she was doing before we entered the room. Well, I did thought about it, but I was distracted and forgot to ask her, which I am glad that I didn’t ask her. In fact, I am writing this in the room that I finally settled on. It was more spacious and during when I checked both rooms, the noise from the renovation was quite faint whilst the other one looks more damp and smelly, not cigarette but more of poor fragrance to mask the smell.

This sounds a bit creepy, even more so that I am actually typing this from the room in the hotel. But I just couldn’t keep quite anymore and would like to find out if there are similar practice in other culture or beliefs.

Now, after I have settled down in the hotel room, I somehow recollected what the front desk customer service did. We stood outside of the hotel rooms, twice, for good one minute. While she was explaining the renovation or something else, she first knocked the door, and waited for few seconds, and then rang the door bell. We waited for another few seconds, before she opened the door using the hotel card. The first time she did that, I wanted to ask her, but somehow I didn’t, as I was too tired after more than 10 hours journey.  What I wanted to ask was “were there other guests in the room??!!”  

Then slowly I recalled a conversation with my university mate when I was back to Malaysia in May. She shared her recent hotel-related experience.  She had to do some survey for her company’s functions and for some reasons, she’d like to see the type of rooms available in the hotels. So she has requested the hotel staff to show her different type of rooms.

Now, this is where she noticed something strange when the same actions taken by the employee of the different hotels she went to. The employees also knocked and rang the bells before entering into the rooms. She too asked the same question that I wanted to ask. “Why did she show her the room where guests are still staying in it?”

Apparently, everyone work works in hotels have a practice and belief to do that, especially if entering the room for the first time. “It is better to knock and ring the bell before entering into the hotel room, even though you know that there should not be any guests in the room. This is to alert “the others” that you are going into the room”. 

I was doubtful initially,  so I did a quick survey by asking people I met on that few days in Malaysia. It seemed that everyone has this knowledge or have heard of this before. I on the other hand, a frequent traveler, have not heard about this before. I did not practice this since I learnt about this even though I continue to travel frequently. I do occasionally share with other friends I met, whenever we talk about something similar.

Now that I am in the room, even though I finally manage to relate the experience with my university mate’s experience, I still do not knock or ring the bell before entering into the room. I only started doing this after another strange practice.

On the first day after work, a minute or so after  I entered into the room, I suddenly realised that the kettle was plugged and turned on automatically. I remember clearly that I unplugged the kettle after I used it the night before as a safety measure. So I was confused why the kettle was plugged and turned on by itself. I unplugged the kettle again that night, however the next night the same thing happened again.

As I pondered about this, I recalled other conversations I had subsequent to my friend’s sharing. Few friends told me that aside from knocking and ringing the bell, they also suggest to boil water. Can’t quite recall the reasons behind it but some believes that will “force the others to leave the room”. 

So, I wonder if there are other practice and beliefs from other culture or countries! And did some internet search and found an article about this.

If you have heard or have such knowledge, please feel free to share!

Categories: China, Life, Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter Wonderland – Iceland (Reykjavik)!

My husband’s friend and his girlfriend transit in London for 10 hours last Sun, while on their way back to Malaysia from a 16 days free and easy holidays in Iceland. Coincidentally, BBC broadcast a documentary about the volcano eruption in Iceland in 2010 which has halted air traffics in Europe.  The pictures that my husband’s friend took and what was shown on BBC reminded me of what a beautiful country Iceland is. We actually went to Reykjavik a 2-3 weeks before the volcano eruption.

To begin with, Iceland was not on our holiday destination list. Being an ignorant person I am, I didn’t know much about this country. I thought the name of the country tells it all about this country. We went in winter, yup, I thought I was braved enough despite the stark warning of the season, just deciphering by its name.  Then again, it was Iceland Air packages that attracted us to go to Reykjavik. It was starting from £200 for 4 days 3 nights, including a free escorted trip to see northern lights. It was a good and affordable deal, and my husband had been telling me about northern lights. I didn’t know much about northern lights, until I met my husband. He was the one keen on this natural phenomenon.

Anyway, this trip was a revelation to me. Iceland wasn’t really that icy cold as I have thought. In fact, it was quite mild when we were there. The lowest temperature was minus 12 degree, on the first night when we went to hunt for northern lights. Right, -12 degree is chilly, but I was expecting Iceland to be -20 or -40 degree. I know I was in Reykjavik and not other part of Iceland, so I can’t quite conclude based on Reykjavik itself. That’s true. But as I mentioned earlier, I was ignorant about this country and I really thought regardless of where I go, it’ll be -20 degree and below. My stupid belief debunked!

Secondly, I was at the beginning of learning photography with DSLR and shooting in low lights has always been a challenge to me.  Therefore to ensure I manage to take the pictures of northern lights, I did a lot of online research. All I have to do is to adjust 3 settings, the ISO set to at least 800 and above. Aperture which controls the amount of lights to the camera,  (or marked as f) should be kept as large as possible (or in layman term, to keep the f  tothe lowest of the camera has) and the shutter speeds have to be slow so that it allows more lights to go in.  I am not going into details, but there are  a lot of good blogs that provides such information, such as Lapland In My Heart, Alaskan Photography Blog, etc.

Little did I knew that I learnt how to protect my camera during winter, especially when the temperature of two places is massively different. Perfect example would be when I’m indoor with heater on and when I am outdoor when the temperature is sub-zero.

Thirdly, on the first night when we went to hunt the northern lights, we were  brought to the þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO heritage site.  It was away from the city and hence lights. It was  supposed to be pitch dark, however  that night was full moon and therefore, we had a big natural light from the moon. I have never knew that moon light could be so bright! However moon light could be the enemy of the northern lights. We took our chance nevertheless. The results of the first night:

    

We went for the free northern light tour the following night (package from Iceland Air), and we were taken to a big empty land (next to a pig farm, and so the smell of the night) for northern lights. That night was a better night as there were more northern lights activities than the first night we went when it was full moon. The photos of that night:

    

Now at the national park, I was privileged enough to step  on the tectonic plates, which separate the Eurasia and North America. These plates move every year, separating Eurasia and North America even further. The following pictures were taken at the national park during day time.

    

Another highlight of the trip was Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, which is situated on a lava field. The spa is kept at between 36  to 38 degree, therefore although the temperature on that day was -2 to -5 degree celcius, we were comfortably soaked in the spa, which is located outdoor. It was quite a heavenly experience. The first picture was taken outside of the lagoon and the 2nd was inside the lagoon.

   

Night view:

  

Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir Geothermal and Pingvellir National Park is a famous Golden Circle excursion in Iceland. The following pictures were taken from Gullfoss waterfall (frozen however) and the geysir.

   

There are 2 Reykjavik cities according to a tour guide. The 2 cities are separated by another town called Moss Town (or something like that). The one that we went to was the old city. There aren’t really a lot of people inhabit in this city. So we feel that the place is quite deserted and spacious. Last but not least, the infamous The Church of Hallgrimur, and Lake Tjornin, at dawn.

    

Categories: Iceland, Reykjavik, Travel | Tags: , | 6 Comments

South Korea – Seoul & Jeju Island

In 2005, I had the opportunity to go to Jeju Island, South Korea for a conference, which was paid by my former employer. So I took the opportunity to extend my stay for sightseeing.

Jeju Island is known to a lot of people as a romantic island and a perfect spot for honeymoon.  Back in 2005, Korean drama frenzy had been ongoing for awhile in Malaysia, such as Winter Sonata, Dae Jang Geum, Stairways to Heaven, etc. I am not an avid fan of Korean drama as I found them a bit too long-winded and slow in pace. Therefore, unlike Hong Kong, I do not have any prior knowledge about South Korea and this trip was more of an excitement for holidays rather than reliving some of the drama scenes.

Perhaps I did not put any expectation on this trip, the outcome was pleasantly surprise.  In fact a really pleasing experience and perhaps the most memorable and longing one.

First of all, my biggest excitement was I saw my idol in Jeju Island.  Hacken Lee, a canto-pop singer from Hong Kong, was recording his album Concert Hall in Jeju and he stayed at the hotel where I had the conference. My husband spotted him first while I was in the conference during day time. So at the very same night, we waited for him to go back to the hotel.  The first attempt was futile and we decided to go and explore the vicinity. After all, it was still a holiday for us and we should not waste our time on this. But deep down in my heart, I wasn’t giving up. And so after an hour to two of exploration, we called it a night and went back to the hotel to try our luck again. After 30 mins of wait or so, I was really giving up hope and ready to leave. But then my husband alerted me that he has just walked in into the hotel. I was really chuffed and speechless. Luckily Hacken recognised my husband as he had hassled him earlier in the afternoon. I did a “taking a photo” gesture, and Hacken nodded his head. Voila, I have my picture taken with him! 🙂

The hotel where I saw and took picture with Hacken was Lotte Hotel. This is also where I had conference. Beautiful hotel but  expensive. Lotte is a South Korean company, which initially I thought is just a brand of food products. But after this trip, I realised that it is more than that. It has hotels, amusement parks, eateries, and even shopping malls.

This picture was taken after we decided to give up “stalking” Hacken.  I thought that even if I didn’t manage to take a picture with him, I would posed outside the hotel where my husband saw him.

Obviously outside of Hackenation’s world, there are a lot of interesting and memorable incidents in Jeju Island.

     

From breathtaking scenery to exploring the local food and markets, Jeju Island has it all! The first 2 pictures were taken by my husband, a beach and waterfall he explored on his own while I was in the conference. He told me that there were a lot of divers catching fresh seafood, which they then ate them fresh and alive there and there.  My apology as I didn’t know the name of this place he went to, and he has also forgotten as well.

The 3rd picture is me enjoying local food at a night market in Seogwipo. That was right after the conference and we moved out from the hotel to a local guesthouse in Seogwipo.

Hallasan or Mount Halla, is a National Park which we hiked up with the intention to see the volcano crate. However we didn’t manage to, as  the trail to the  crate was temporarily closed. It was more than 3 hours to hike up and we were lucky that a very kind couple offered to send us to the nearest bus station when they saw us limping down the mountain. We did not speak a common language yet we magically could understand each other. The couple was really kind and did not ask for anything in return of the favour they gave us. They even taught us how to speak and recognise Korean alphabets for beef, chicken, fish, pork, etc.  Which we communicated by drawing pictures of the animals and of which they replied in Korean language. That was a brief encounter, but will be in my memory forever. Kind-hearted Korean couple in Jeju Island!

 

After spending 3-4 nights in Jeju Island, we reluctantly left the beautiful island to Seoul. We spent the first night in a guesthouse in Seoul but we spent our next night on a bus to go to another national park, Seoraksan. Luckily we did not have to hike this time as there is a cable car service. Scenic view and breathtaking.

After a day at Seoraksan, we went back to Seoul. Seoul is a big city, and we did struggle a bit manoeuvring ourselves, especially finding the guesthouse that we booked online. The best guesthouse that we stayed at was Tea Guesthouse. It was rather pricey but it was for the experience. We slept in a traditional Korean way, i.e. on a tatami (or in another word, on a mat placed on the wooden floor) and paper-pasted windows. That one night stay also included a free session of tea ceremony and a try-on on Korean traditional costumes, hanbok, which could be charged up to 20K won.

  

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The first picture was taken outside of the guesthouse and the 2nd picture was taken at the courtyard inside the guesthouse.

The 3rd and 4th pictures are David and me in hanbok after the tea ceremony. The hanbok was actually belonged to the owners and they wore the very same costumes on their wedding night. We felt really honored to be able to try them.

I can’t not comment about the food in Korea. Korean pickled vegetables, including kimchi, to me is the best dishes I had in Korea, and it is served free and topped up however much you like to. It is definitely one thing I enjoyed most but alas, in London each plate of pickled vegetable is charged exorbitantly at £2!

Besides pickled vegetables, we also tried a lot of other food in Korea, such as BBQ meat with delicious marinade, rice cakes served in sweet and  savoury, fried rice and noodles. But my favourite is  stew tofu, which we had it twice at an eatery (which I only knew it by the name of Sik Dang), near Ewha Women University.

Other places that we went to in Seoul included Insadong, which is famous for its local designers artworks and antiques.

  

Gyeongbok palace – where we learnt about the history of Joseon dynasty, and how 4th king of Joseon dynasty, simplified Chinese characters to current Korean alphabets. The first picture was taken outside of the entrance to the palace and the 2nd picture was with a guard at the gate. There was also a guard changing ceremony at the courtyard of the palace.

This is one trip that I always long to go back again.

Categories: Jeju Island, Life, South Korea, Travel | Leave a comment

Count Down to my top 5 favourite trips!

In the next few blogs, I would like to recount my experience, feeling and share some pictures of the places that I have been to. I have been to quite a few of places, but sadly to say that I haven’t managed to explore all 7 continents. Let me do a bit of counting:

1) The first continent : Asia 

a) Malaysia, where I grew up, have 14 states, and I have been to Perak (my hometown), Kedah (where I studied my degree), Perlis, Penang, Kuala Lumpur (where I worked), Selangor, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Johor, Pahang, Kelantan, Terengganu, Sabah & Sarawak.

b) Singapore (a neighbouring country)

c) Indonesia (Bali)

d) China (Guangzhou, Harbin, Changchun, Guilin, Shenyang, Shaoxing and Shanghai)

e) Hong Kong SAR

f) South Korea (Seoul and Jeju Island)

2) The 2nd Continent: Africa

a) South Africa (Johannesburg)

3) The 3rd Continent: North America

a) Chicago

b) San Francisco

c) Yosemite

d) Orlando (Disney World & Universal Studio)

4) Australia (Sydney & Melbourne) 

5) Europe: 

a) UK – London, Southampton, Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, York, Lake District, Peak District, Snowdon, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Windsor, Liverpool, etc

b) France – Paris, Champagne, Loire Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Alsace, Aquitaine,

c) Germany – Frankfurt, Black Forest, Baden-Wuttemberg, Rhineland

d) Iceland – Reykjavik

e) Norway – Oslo, Flam and Bergen

f) Sweden – Stockholm

g) Denmark – Copenhagen

h) Austria – Salzburg, Mayhorfen, Innsbruck, Wattens

i) Switzerland – Zurich, Appenzell, Interlaken, Jungfrau, Geneva, Lucerne, Lausanne, Thun, Frutigen

j) Malta

k) Italy -Rome, Venice, Verona, Milan, Pisa, Florence

j) Belgium – Brussels, Ghent,

k) The Netherlands – Amsterdam,

l) Portugal – Lisbon

m) Spain – Barcelona, Madrid

n) Russia – St Petersburg

o) Bulgaria – Sofia

p) Greece – Athens

q) Vatican City

r) Luxembourg

A long list but there are still a lot of places that I haven’t been to.

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Next trip to China: Shaoxing and Shanghai

I am not intending to write a travel blog that introduce places to go and must visit. I am just merely recounting my experience, and perhaps rekindle the feeling at  that point of time. Be warned that it will not always be  a pleasant ones.

The next trip is a good example. China is again not a by choice trip, but a business trip. China is my ancestral origin however born and raised in Malaysia, I do not have much love for China. However, I thought by tracing my ancestral roots in China, it will be a better way to ignite the love of my ancestry motherland.

I like ancient Chinese histories. China long histories, not only just about the dynasties, kings, and wars, but the scholars, beautiful costumes, Chinese musical instruments, Chinese art of cooking, Chinese traditional medicines and healing methods, etc. I learnt about Chinese culture, aside from at home, which I suspect have assimilated with Malaysian Chinese culture, but also through TV. There was once  a yearn to visit this country to explore it in person.

Finally in 2005 this dream finally came true. My family decided to go during Chinese New Year to Harbin, north of China for its ice sculptures. Those who live in 4 seasons country, will wonder why we chose to have our holidays during winter and in sub-zero degree. Malaysia is hot and humid throughout the year, and no season. So winter will always be a hearsay and never an experience. That is why we braved ourselves during this time of the year to visit the country. Besides, we thought holidaying in China during Chinese New Year will somehow or rather let us have more atmospheric festive season. Furthermore, Harbin is famous for its ice sculptures, so if it is not a winter holiday, when can we see the ice sculpture?

We departed 2-3 days before Chinese New Year to Guangzhou with an escorted tour group. I wouldn’t go into the details but this trip had not only didn’t manage to ignite the love for my ancestral motherland, it had in fact made me feel of not wanting to return to the country again. Not because it was cold, but we unfortunately encountered unpleasant experience. My father’s friend lost his luggage in a train that we took between the cities/ towns, caught in a heated argument, which almost turn from verbal to physical fight. We were also have to be fully alert when walking on the streets, not only for pick pockets, but for the locals who spit like no other people’s business!

Despite the histories, I am afraid that since that trip, I have never planned my trip to China again, for holidays. However, with China as the emerging market, everyone is flocking to the country and my company as one of the multinational, have started its business in the country too.

Last year, as my second trip in the Company and my life, I went to China again. This time to Shaoxing and Shanghai. I was assured by my colleagues that I will like it and our Chinese colleagues are very hospitable and easy to deal with. And China has changed a lot since my last visit, which was almost  10 years ago.

Whilst travelling in winter was difficult, travelling during summer was not pleasant neither. Last year, we went in July and it was not only humid, the air and noise pollution had made the journey even more dreadful. Smoking indoor is still not prohibited in China and so, anywhere I went, I was struggling for more oxygen!

Shaoxing is still up and coming and incomparable to big cities like Shanghai. I know that it will be unfair for me to compare these two places, but these are the places that I went last year and this year too.

People in Shaoxing are more down to earth and they are hospitable, with all sorts of food. We literally are fed every single day, for dinner and lunch. I almost suspect that my colleagues in China were using this as a tactic to stop us from digging in too much into their business. I felt stressed as with all these invites to lunches and dinners, that shortened our working time tremendously. Unfortunately in this kind of situation, extensive hospitability is not really what I will appreciate for.

Before I stepped my foot into Shaoxing, my only knowledge about Shaoxing is its wine, which is used in cooking. Now after having been to the city, I’d say its stinky tofu should overtake its wine. Simply because nothing beats the smell from feet apart than gulping down a cuppa or two of its yellow wine (黃酒, pronounced as “huang jiu” in mandarin or “wong jau” in cantonese). What surprises me more was that stinky tofu is also served as a dish in a high class restaurant. Now, out of courtesy, I had to down one piece, but that last in my mouth.. till tomorrow! And that is the stinkiest tofu I have eaten.

After a week in Shaoxing, we left the place to Shanghai and on the way, we managed to stop over at West Lake in Hangzhou. It is a beautiful place, however due to the heat and humid, I didn’t manage to enjoy it too much. So our stop over was only for an hour or so.

In Shanghai it was a different city. Cosmopolitan, a mixture of past histories and modern facade. I haven’t been to Hong Kong then, but now that I have, I can’t stop to compare both places.

Perhaps the highlight of this trip was the water village, Wuzhen that we spent a day at. Image

The tilt houses are built by the river and built during dynasty era, which majority have been converted to eateries and hotels or hostels nowadays. The water town is not big but adequate for a day trip.

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A traditional barber still in operations.

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A week before I left to China, I watched a documentary on BBC that highlight this unique fishing method, by using birds! Unfortunately all we saw was just the fisherman resting with his birds by his side. But we were told that is the method that he uses to catch fishes everyday!

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Chinese all times favourite – mahjong!

Now, I am not too sure what to expect in the next trip!

Categories: China, Life, Travel | 5 Comments

Hong Kong Trip – My-money-can’t-buy-and-once-in-a-lifetime-experience (Fingers crossed)

Hong Kong is not the cleanest city in the world, but definitely this is not a norm sight. But if you are patient enough, you’ll find out why I posted this picture and what has it to do with my not-so-sought after HK experience.

To begin with, I loathe travelling in summer, let alone for holiday! Perhaps due to the fact that I grew up in a tropical country, Malaysia, which is hot and humid all year round, the idea of travelling during summer is a no-no for me.  However this Hong Kong trip was not up to me to decide since it was a business trip and I took this opportunity to extend another week for my own exploration.

I know that this won’t be a convincing reason to advise people to stop travelling during summer, but I have a more compelling reason for not doing so. It is none other than the tropical typhoon!  You must be wondering, how often could it happen? I supposed it is not the question of how often but when the likelihood of it happening, and the impact is high, we are at high risk of exposing ourselves to such an incident.

It is common for Hong Kong to have tropical typhoon during summer. And so your next question will be how severe could it be? And how often will that severity occurs? I can’t answer that as one can’t quite predict or control the weather, well at least not way in advance. Hong Kong Observatory is the government department that forecasts weather and issues warning accordingly. The warnings include the speed of wind and rainfalls alongside other usual weather related information. Specific to tropical typhoon,  the warnings are issued in escalating number signals, which are based on the wind speed:

a) signal 1 (or T1) is if the cyclone is within 800 km to HK

b) 3 (T3) is for wind speed between 40 and 60 kmph

c) 8 (T8), if wind speed is beween 60 and 110 kmph

d) 9 (T9) –  wind speed of 110 to 120 kmph

e) 10 (T10) – wind speed more than 120 kmph

How often will T10 be issued? The latest was on the 23rd July 2012! Yes, that was when I was in Hong Kong, supposedly enjoying myself with the food and er.. warm weather. The last time T10 was issued was more than a decade! How lucky could I be?? Mind you, we did pay our first visit to Hong Kong Jockey Clubs to place our bet on the Mark 6 Lottery. Alas, we didn’t manage to leave Hong Kong as millionaire!

Anyway on the day of the typhoon, at around 4 pm, HK Observatory announced that T8 will be issued at 6 pm. My friend advised me to go back to our apartment, and stock up food, for dinner and perhaps the following day too. Just in case the typhoon will last for more than 24 hours! Ironically despite this misfortune natural danger, most people who live in Hong Kong welcome T8 with a big smile! Once T8 is issued, employers and schools are obliged to let everyone off and go home early! Damage to the economy but something that must be done. However it doesn’t stop opportunists to continue their business, especially eateries. And it also doesn’t stop adventurous people from staying outdoor to test the speed of wind! Now is that necessary?

I can proudly tell you here that you don’t need to be outdoor to test the wind. In fact when you are at high altitude (20th floor) and at an open area (no other buildings adjacent to your building), you are pretty much testing the wind.
When I rented the apartment located at Wan Chai, it was advertised as “building with mountain and sea view”. In Chinese it would be “背山面海”. Good feng shui! Feng (風) is wind in chinese and shui (水) is water in chinese. Now how ironic could it be when that night of T10 typhoon, the wind (feng) was howling scarily. The feng was so strong that I could feel the building swayed! No kidding. The shui (rain in this case) was so heavy that I could hear every rain dropped! Splashing loudly on the windows that I was really afraid that the windows will be broken. We haven’t sealed the windows with any wood planks nor tapes. Well that’s what happened in those TV series. The wind is strong that it will break the windows.
That wasn’t my only worry for that night. I was also worried that the strong wind will blew those noisy and bulky air conditioners away, which have two third of its body exposed to the outside world. But most of all, I was afraid that the strong wind will collapse the building! Yes I am paranoia but if you were in that kind of situation, you will fear for the worst! The building swayed as if there was an earthquake tremor.

And I have heard about Hong Kong buildings that may have undergone refurbishment or structurally changed without proper authority approval. So where do I based my sense of trust and security then? However despite the swaying building, I finally managed to sleep. I suspect that the swaying must have the bed rocking effect for me. Next I knew when I opened my eyes was everything was calm and signal warning has gone back to 8. But no more wind howling and no more raindrops.
So the picture above was the aftermath, the very next morning around Wan Chai. Unfortunately we didn’t take the devatasting view, but this was a rare sight, as HK is always full of people. Now, the day after makes HK looks like a deserted city.

Great experience and story to be told generations to generations but thank you, once is more than enough!

Categories: Hong Kong, Life, Travel | Leave a comment

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