Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"Old Ladies Don't Walk Fast, Lah!"

Last Sunday, Liz and I observed the Wanita Super Rally, a peaceful gathering in favor of clean and free elections in Malaysia.This march was held in apparent compliance with the new peaceful assembly act.

The procession was scheduled for 2PM and as normal for such events anywhere in the world, this was an aspirational time.  People began gathering in the Taman Jaya park before 2PM with a lot of hugs and greetings.  Groups participating represented election reform advocates, human rights advocates, refugee rights advocates, anti-Lynas advocates, and gay/transgendered advocates.  I estimated that almost 2,000 gathered in Taman Jaya park.

The procession began with drummers, and chants.  The procession crossed one very busy street where the local police assisted in halting the traffic to allow the crowd to pass by.  Many car horns were sounded in support of the rally.  A new phenomena was observed with people holding iPads out the windows of passing cars (to take pictures and videos).  It looks somewhat absurd, but that is modern life.

The procession was confined to the sidewalks and it stretched out many blocks long.  It was a hot afternoon, about 33C and people began to lag.  At one intersection a policeman directing traffic said to those crossing the street "cepat, cepat"  (fast, fast), to which an elderly lady in the group with me replied, "Old ladies don't walk fast, Lah!"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Four 9 to 5 days - so glad I am retired

I leapt at the chance to represent Empower at an EU workshop on the Project Management Cycle.I could  hone my skills, be more useful to Empower, and meet other Malaysian NGO staff. I left our condo at 8 and returned around 6:15. After the first day I missed the leisurely life of a retiree..

Participants listening to a presentation
The workshop was to increase the number and quality of funding proposals NGOs submit to the EU, the largest external development donor in the world. EU's  funding in Malaysia is relatively modest. Environmental and sustainability projects receive 79% of EU aid in Malaysia and human rights projects 5% (578 million Euro).

The major lesson - Not skilled at building and presenting log frames?  Forget seeking EU funding.

Other lessons:

Lesson 1: As an instructor I could covered log frames quickly and superficially; as a potential grant applicant I had to adopt an EU reviewer's perspective. A log frame looks deceptively easy to assemble, but working with a group of people confirmed that it isn't. Because a clear, logical log frames are critical to an EU proposal they can't be ignored or re-engineered.

Lesson 2 & 3: A concept note is not a chatty narrative of the proposal. No matter what the proposal says, do the log frame before the concept note.

Lesson 4: Grantors making relatively large grants expect the grantees to invest time to identify and work with stake holders and develop completely all aspects of the proposal (log frame, concept note, budget and so forth).
Checking a log frame in progress. Shawl was not a fashion statement - the room was cold.
A picture of all participants would show women wrapped in shawls and men in warm up jackets.
Lesson 5: Different donors may use different project management tools and terms - one has to adjust to the donor not the reverse.

Lesson 6: A workshop with Malaysian human rights NGOs is always worth attending;  meeting serious, bright, dedicated people is uplifting. And there is tea-time, an important beginning point for initiating new relationships.

My next steps. (1) To meet with Empower staff, along with my co-trainee, and review what we learned and brainstorm how to apply the workshop's lessons. (2) If approved by the training staff to post the presentations on a website.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Baking Bread

If you have been reading this blog, you may have noticed we have spent a lot of time searching for good bread.  In December an acquaintence from Bahasa Malaysia class shared some bread he made  Since then the thought of baking has been on my to do list.  In late February the folks at CETDEM came to the rescue.  They offered a class in Organic Bread Making.  Liz was all for this... getting to taste good bread and getting me out of the house.

Our instructor at CETDEM

So on a Sunday morning I went off to the CETDEM facilities.  I went to the wrong facility....their office.  After a few calls, I got some sketchy directions, hailed a cab and went off to find the CETDEM community centre.  With luck, I arrived only a few minutes late, and hopefully did not delay the proceedings.

Sourdough Starter Chinese Style
There were 11 of us, 1 expat (me), and the remainder Malaysians (mixed Chinese and Indians).  We all washed up, and proceeded to watch and touch dough.  We first made a batch of sourdough starter....both using a Chinese traditional method, and using active dry yeast, water and flour.  We set those aside and began to make a whole wheat bread dough using organic bread flour, water, oil, yeast, sugar, salt, whole wheat flour and water.  After mixing for a while by hand we turned our the flour onto a stainless steel countertop.  We then learned the finer points of kneading.
Demo of kneading

It was much more strenuous that I was used to.  We used two hands, one to anchor the dough ball and the other to stretch the dough.  We did this for about 10 minutes, oiled a bowl, oiled the dough, covered it with a damp linen towel and placed it in a corner to rise.  No worries about finding a warm place in the kitchen here in Malaysia.

Shaped loaves
We then took an alread made batch of risen dough,  knoched it down and divided it into 300gm pieces.  These we stretched out, rolled, folded and placed into oiled baking pans.  We set there aside to rise.

Dinner Rolls
After talking, and waiting for our loaves to rise, we retrieved our original batch of dough, an divided it into individual roll sized pieces.  We each rolled the dough and placed them on a baking pan to rise again.

We never got to see our loaves of bread finish their rising, but the rolls rose quickly, and they baked up nicely in about 20 minutes.  I took one home to share with Liz.

A week later I got my hand at baking bread in Kuala Lumpur.  In the intervening week my local supermarket began a renovation and for several days had no flour.  At another market I found unbleached Gold Medal all-purpose flour, and an Australian brand of rapid rise yeast.  The former is not necessarily adequate for bread making, and the later was unfamiliar.  Added to that was an Australian brand of whole meal flour (not the same as whole wheat bread flour).  I used a recipe I gathered from the internet and proceeded to make bread.

Yes, my dough is rising in a wok.
Well the batch was extremely gooey, and sticky, so I added more all purpose flour.  I never was able to get to a nice smooth stretchy dough.  I suspect it was the lack of gluten in the flours.  The dough rose adequately and I punched it down.  I then formed the loaves and set them aside to rise again.  This yeast was very much so that you could observe the dough rising.  I think it was a combination of the activity of the yeast culture, and the heat in an non air conditioned tropical kitchen (you don't need to worry about finding a warm location in your kitchen).

I put two of the loaves in pans, and reserved the remainder of the dough for the freezer.  I had no use for 4 loaves of bread.  Unfortunately my freezer has a hot spot (where the defroster is located) and the dough continued to rise for several hours in the freezer.

And we have bread.
I do not have a proper oven, but I have a Faber Convection Oven (basically a souped up toaster oven). I set the temp gauge at 180C and hoped for the best.  After preheating, I put the loaves in the over.  No additional dough rising occurred during the baking process.  The loaves browned nicely, and a crust formed.  However the bread was grainy (probably a result of the whole wheat flour used), and did not have a well formed interior....and it was a bit yeasty in flavor.  But it was eatable and toasted nicely.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Short Visit to Solo (Surakarta)

Train from Yogjakarta to Solo
Our friends encouraged us to travel to Solo (Surakarta), since we had only spent an afternoon there almost 40 years ago. We had a friend to introduce to a new city and off we went. From Yogjakarta to Solo is a short trip. Forty years ago we travelled by bus, but this time it was via a short a/c commuter train at a cost of 20,000 (IDR).

We arrived late in the morning, checked in at our hotel (Hotel Indah Jaya) and went immediately by taxi to a section of the city specializing in batik clothing. It was a Sunday and many of the stores were closed (a weekend day off). the store we were interested in was not there. We got two pedicabs (one pedicab operator called for another, but only by clapping....yelling is frowned upon).
A Solo Pedicab

One driver was extremely frail, but he took Lina and Liz. Several km later and 20 minutes of furious pedeling we arrived at the Batik Keris factory  (a large modern manufacturing facility specializing in the export trade). It was closed (Sunday). We felt like were were in the Amazing Race (little did I know I would be checking into a hotel the next night where the man in front of me had an Amazing Race staff luggage tag). After we got down from the pedicabs, they (the pedicab drivers) made the great escape. Two security guards  came to our assistance.
Helpful Security Guards
They phoned for a taxi. While waiting we had a conversation in broken Indonesia (ours), Malay (Lina) and English (guards).

We decided to abandon our quest for cheap batik and headed off to the Batik Keris showroom in central Solo. I purchased two hand print batik shirts and drooled over a hand painted batik shirt. Liz found one blouse. Even though I have lost significant amounts of weight, broad shoulders are still not easily accounted for in Indonesia patterns. Maybe another 10kg will solve that problem.

We went outside to find some food. A street cart vendor satisfied our desires. A crisp crepe like confection. We now knew we were in the right city for food.

The food vendor

Sampling food

It began to rain and we found refuge outside of a bank. We sat for about 30 minutes observing locals escaping from the weather.

A rain storm

The Solo Kraton is a prime tourist spot. The staff at the hotel said there was a fair outside the Kraton. We were not disappointed. It was a cross between a densely packed Asian market and a carnival at a US state fair. We again used a pedicab to travel around the crowed grounds. Once we got down from the pedicab we abandoned the idea of visiting the Kraton, but decided to visit the shops near the Pasar Klewer and Batik Kampoong (this spelling came from a Solo Tourist map). A restaurant provided a respite from another rainshower. We had a nice soto ayam (chicken soup). Afterwards we wandered through Batik Kampoong. It lived up to its name with numerous Batik clothing shops and small factories. Lina purchased material for a Malay baju kurung, which takes a minimum of 4 meters of cloth. Finally we purchased a supply of snacks for our return trip to Bandung. Our favorite was a cracker made from carmelized palm sugar with roasted peanuts on top.

Because of the weather, and the short period to time we spent in Solo, we were unable to taste the food recommended by our friends.  However with AirAsia and cheap fares we will be able to return to Solo for less the $110 USD r/t ++++(taxes, fuel surcharge, booking fee, luggage fee, etc), but still cheap if you plan in advance.  Several days may be required to sample the food, go to the villages where  batik is made, and visit the weekend market where batik is sold by the makers.