Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mysore Day 2

Mysore Day 2

The 402nd edition of the Mysore Dasara Procession

The ultimate day of the Mysore celebration started slowly. We had a leisurely breakfast and departed the hotel @ 11:30 am for a walk to the palace grounds. We arrived at noon. The streets that were jammed with cars, bicycles, and buses were now jammed with people. Lines of people were waiting for entry to the grounds. Fortunately, the Gold Card allowed us to bypass the lines. The gold card is a 10 day pass allowing the purchasers to have free entry to museums, events, parking and other "discounts". While it is expensive, waiting in long lines is no longer on our agenda. So we bypassed the long lines and walked through a series of crowd control lines which would make Walt Disney or any airport security organization proud.

Crowds at the entrance gate

Last minute instructions from our guide

Inside the palace grounds, we encountered numerous tableaus (floats in the American idiom). These were massive multi-unit vehicles, equipped with their own power generators. On a side lawn marching and performing units gathered with the rhythmic sound of drums pulsating in the air. Eventually we found the grandstands reserved for the Gold Cards group. There were other areas reserved for VIPs, The Judiciary, RS1000 ticket holders and others we did not see. The event was televised and live steamed on the Internet. The following day's newspaper reported Internet access from over 55 nations. Our observation was that non-Indian nationals made up less than 1% of the crowd.

Ganesha in a tableau
The Karnataka State Temperance Board Tableau
A village scene on a tableau
You want me to pose?
Still More tableaux pictures

We found seats and the wait began. The event would not begin until a wrestling event was held inside the palace. The Maharajah (former) was the judge. When he determined the winner (after the first blood was drawn) the parade could begin.

The Grand Stands

The procession began with the arrival of elephants. From my previous encounters with elephants (viewing in zoos or from the stands at a circus) I was unprepared for the massive size of these elephants. As they strolled by one bull broke loose and began charging forward. Guards, mahouts and other elephants struggled to stop the beast. All this took place in the matter of several seconds. The animal was brought under control and the parade continued unaffected.

An elephant arrives
Disaster averted

A man on stilts

The tableaus depicted scene in Indian life. Religious scenes predominated, but a conscious effort was made to show inclusive scenes of religious life. Single tableaus feature Islamic, Christian and Hindu symbols and buildings. Thirty some tableaus later, some Indian marching bands, performers, people on stilts the elephant appointed to carry the Golden Howath appeared.

The elephant carrying the Golden Howath arrives.

This elephant is 52 years old. Over the previous several months he had been trained slowly to carry a 750kg load. The training is necessary because elephant backs are relatively weak. Until 1956 the Golden Howath carried the Maharajah, but with independence it now carries a golden god image. The elephant carrying  the Golden Howath accompanied by two smaller elephants set off on their 5 km journey to the parade grounds. As in US parades, the last unit in the parade was a fire engine, only Santa was not on board. The procession took two hours to depart.

We returned to the hotel where we met our guide again. We got dinner (it was jammed) and then drove off to the parade grounds. Heavy traffic was expected, but at the end we were stuck in the car for 1.5 hours. The reason, traffic to the parking lots was directed down the road straight into the traffic that had followed the parade. As we say in Kuala Lumpur, the result was Jam Lah! But the highlight was the confrontation between policemen and a car carrying government officials. We thought fisticuffs might break out.

The evening performance at the parade ground was interesting: police units, and youth groups marched in formation prior to the national anthem. All stood and sang (with about as much audience participation as you would find in the U.S. This was followed by a 30 minute motorcycle performance. A figure 8 formation resulted in a crash. An ambulance was called but the rider was able to walk off. To colorful dance segments followed including a Performance by Russian artists whose performance was augmented by lasers. The finale was a police unit marching holding flaming torches. It ended with the torches spelling out "to protect and serve" and "come back to Dasara 2013".

A motorcycle acrobat demonstration

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dasara in Mysore (Part 1)

Dasara Crowds (at Palace but every where else in Mysore)
Dasara in Mysore combines the exotic with the familiar. A 9 night Hindu festival, Navratri, leads up to Dasara on the 10th day. Dasara celebrates the victory of good, represented by the god Rama, over evil, represented by Ravana. 

In January when we visited Mysore our guide urged us to come for Dasara. We took his advice. At first we planned to handle everything ourselves, but then decided that the easiest way to travel to and from Bangalore and get a Gold Pass to Dasara events was to book with a travel agency. This was wise. It made just getting around was so much easier.

Raghunath - Tour Guide & Escort
Our guide, “Ragu," was exceptional in putting Dasara in context. We started at Chamundi Hill where we walked along with the crowd streaming into the temple grounds. Along the way vendors were selling items for temple offerings, snacks, and the whimsical souvenirs of the moment – a favorite seemed to be devil’s horns. A queue was wrapped around the temple. It was the first of several queues we saw during the day.  For many Indians the observation that “life involves moving from queue to queue” is not an abstraction.

Devotees could break coconuts for good luck at the “breaking coconut pit.” An old couple “guarded” the pit, gathered broken coconuts either to share with their family or to sell to a restaurant. (The old man kept signaling that he wanted Doug to take his picture – an income producing opportunity.).Near the temple was a cart that is brought out once a year during Navratri An idol of the goddess Chamundi is placed on the cart, heavy ropes are attached, and allegedly 1000 men pull it counter clock wise around the temple. This led to a discussion with Raghu about the significance of going to the right. He said that going to the right keeps one in harmony with nature  (he put it more lyrically). He noted that if he did not get up on the right side of the bed for the rest of the day he would feel like something was wrong, that is, he didn't “get up on the right side of the bed.”

The temple is owned by the government so all donations go to the government. (In private temples this is not true and in one temple in Kerala a treasure trove valued at billions of dollars. God in India are allowed to own property, but they must be treated as minors. For further details see "The Secret of the Temple")

Vendor selling temple offerings

Portable ATM - Can't use "no money" as an excuse
Demon Mahishasura (killed by Chamundi)

From the temple 1008 steps lead to Nandi, the transport for Lord Shiva. We skipped the steps and took the car. We saw Nandi in January. Now he was decked out with flowers. At any time of the year he is impressive.

Along the way we saw decorate vehicles (auto rickshaws, lorries, and taxis), On the 9th day of Navrati in Karnataka "implements used in daily life such as computers, books, vehicles, or kitchen tools [are worshiped). The effort to see the divine in the tools and objects one uses in daily life is central to this celebration, so it includes all tools that help one earn one's livelihood. Knowledge workers go for books, pen or computers, farmers go for the plough and other agricultural tools, machinery for industrialists and cars/buses/trucks for the transportation workers—all are decorated with flowers and worshiped on this day invoking God's blessing for success in coming years."  {From
Even police vehicles are decorated
As was our hotel's elevator door

The  palace was closed until 2:00 so that the royal family could perform their devotions. We arrived at 2:00 and marveled at the long queues. The "magical"  Golden Pass allowed us to go to the head of the line. This privilege only went so far; it did not keep us from being squeezed by the throngs touring the palace.

Police doing crowd control - notice the Texas-style hats

In the palace we saw the howdah that an elephant carries in the Dasara procession. The howdah weighs 750 kilograms. To get an elephant prepared for this role the trainers introduce weight gradually. Carrying the howdah is an honor for an elephant and the locals follow the assignment of this role closely. The 54 year bull elephant who has done this for 14 years has been retired and the role has been taken over by a 52 year old elephant. Inside the palace as a wrestling ring – members of the royal family and probably some VIPs witness the wrestling match. When a winner is declared the procession will begin.

During Navrati the palace is illuminated from 7-9 all 9 nights. During the rest of the year it is illuminated on Sunday night. The palace was close to our hotel so we walked. Crossing the street was nearly impossible so we followed our strategy of standing very close to a local and cross when s/he crossed. At the palace people were sitting around and visiting and waiting for the lights to come on. Others were wander around and others were watching a cultural show.

Note the Dasara link at the beginning of this post is a video of the festivities.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Road to Mysore

We met our driver, Mr. Ravi at the hotel. We had a little confusion since neither of us had a copy of our programme. We also needed to make our yearly purchase of prescription drugs, and the desk clerk provided the driver with directions to a local Apollo Pharmacy where we ordered our medications.

Bangalore a large city of several million, has a serious water problem.  The city has no rivers, and sits on rock limiting the use of underground water. As we were approaching we saw Bangalore municipal water pumping stations, and viaducts providing water for both Bangalore and Mysore. My Indian seatmate on the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangalore told me his monthly water bill for both potable water and recycled water ran USD $60 per month. My water bill in Kuala Lumpur is USD $4 per month. He also told of interstate conflicts over the release of water from dams is frequent resulting in transit and commercial strikes over water issues.

A Water Viaduct
The biggest problem in getting to Mysore, is navigating Mysore Road. Phase I of the Bangalore Metro system in under construction, and similar to any mass transit construction project in the world, traffic and roads are horrendous, adding to the already difficult traffic conditions of urban India. Once we cleared the construction zone, we encountered occasional blockages caused by the geologic survey for Phase II of the metro expansion along Mysore Road.

As we left the Bangalore metro area we began to see cattle, sheep and goats, but not as numerous as we saw in our travels in the north. Only on one occasion did we see herds of animals along the side of the 4 lane highway. On this trip what I noticed was not the numerous heavily laden trucks (and there are still many trucks plying the highways), but the many passenger buses. This may be explained by the festive period of Dasara. Even accounting for many stops to pick up and discharge passengers, the buses kept pace with our car. I must note that most drivers for tour companies obey the speed limits with perfection and are meticulous with their use of signal.

Sheep on the highway

In Karnataka large overhead signs (always in red and/or announce the entry and exit from towns and cities(Karnataka State announces we are travelling on Roads for Prosperity). We entered Channapatna (the city of toys), but did not stop. We also passed through the silk city, and sugar city. In Mandaya traveled a short distance off the main highway to view the sugar factory. The factory did not seem to be operating, and certainly did not give factory tours. However, lines of wagons loaded with sugar cane lined the road with teams of cattle and bullocks nearby. The next day the local newspaper announced a young man had been killed by a leopard. Our driver pointed out the padi fields (4 crop cycles per year), sugar cane (2 cycles per year) and the vast numbers of coconut palms. One small town had a market devoted to coconut (with the sweetest milk in India).

Our final stop before Mysore was Srirangapatnam. A large fortress was at this site and commemorates a series of battles between Sultan Tippu and the British forces. Tippu was defeated in 1799, but in earlier decades he had victories. We visited and underground prison where some British, Moroccan, and French prisoners we held. They were chained to the walls, and the dungeon was flooded. We visited a twin towered mosque. In contrast to Malaysia were non-believers are shunned and not invited to view the buildings, we were welcomed. The sanctuary was closed between prayer times so we did not view it. We did see the madrassa for poor children outside on the lower level of the building.

The dungeon at Srirangapatnam

Jama Masjid

A Madrassa below the Jama Masjid

A sundial to determine prayer times

Next to the mosque is the Lenin Convent English Medium School. A strange name for a school and if anyone can enlighten us please comment.

Lenin Convent English Medium School

We finally arrived mid afternoon in Mysore. It was a leisurely trip. The Sidhartha Hotel was nice. We walked to a local Internet cafe and began our quest for a SIM card. On the street we encountered our driver. He assisted us for about two hours as we walked the streets, getting passport photos, and filling out forms. We got the SIM card from TATA DOCOMO, but 96  hours later, it is yet to be activated. I have given up all hope for this trip.

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Location:Mysore, India

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

One night in Bangalore

An Air Asia promotion bought months ago motivated this trip to south India. Staying two nights in Bangalore allowed us to order a year’s supply of meds before we went to Mysore and to pick them up on our way back. We expected a quick uninteresting stay. Our adventures were small, but memorable.

At the airport we purchased a taxi coupon. The taxi driver did not know where our hotel, the Golden Landmark, which was unsurprising since our travel agency wasn't familiar with it either. We knew that it was near the railroad station and gave the driver its phone number. He claimed that the number disconnected and then asked if we had already paid. Since we had, he soldiered on into the city. After a few unsuccessful inquiries by phone and rickshaw drivers he stopped at a small shop/stand and got complete directions. (My guess is that he had “taxi driver radar” to identify a fellow driver.)

The rest of the story:  The hotel receptionist verified that the number was correct. The desk clerk suggested that the taxi driver had called and immediately hung up. Our suspicion – he was getting ready to suggest an alternate hotel!

For dinner we stayed in the hotel. The dining room was dimly lit and the menu pages had a floral background that obscured several items. The menu separated Chinese, Indian, Northern India and veg and non-veg options and for each cuisine listed starters, soups, salads, and main. While we were watched over by a waiter we did a lot of page flipping. I first ordered coriander soup. As soon as I started to order the waiter  disappeared; He came back to with other waiters. After we completed our order, all three huddled over our order to puzzle it out. With at least 6 wait staff, the kitchen staff (heard but not seen) and us (the only dinners) it seemed like a scene inspired by Downton Abbey. 

At breakfast the waiter greeted us with “today breakfast is a la carte, I will bring you what you want.” The challenge was to decide what we wanted. A request for an Indian breakfast drew no response nor did a mention of roti. I may not have been specific enough, he may not have understood my accent, or he spoke virtually no English. Doug asked for toast. As the waiter left he kept saying “toast.” I assume it was an effort to remember the request until he could get it translated. An Indian family had a long conversation with him to figure out what was available and explain their order. Their young son’s facial expressions suggested that he found the ordering process as chaotic as we did.

When we arrived (around 7:00 p.m.) the hotel seemed as empty as its restaurant. During dinner we heard a shout that students had arrived. A gaggle of college-aged students was gathered in the lobby getting room assignments. Some of them were on our floor. During the night our doorbell rang, apparently a student trying to find a friend. We ignored the rings and they ended quickly. We were not as lucky at 6:00 a.m. when someone banged on our door and rang the bell. Even shouts of “wrong room” didn’t help. So Doug answered the door, which elicited a response of “sorry.”

We are coming back to Bangalore and the same hotel later in the week. I wonder what is in store for us.

Update: On our return we were greeted by the female receptionist, who is pleasant and competent. The restaurant was less chaotic. We walked around the neighborhood. To call it "dingy" may be a complement. If we return to Bangalore we will look for another hotel and neighborhood.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Brendan eats in Kuala Lumpur

Brendan, our older son, arrived for a 5 day/4 night visit. Since he has been to KL several times and was still jet lagged, we concentrated on eating. We introduced him to our neighborhood food options and tried a few new restaurants.

We had two banana leaf  dinners. A typical banana leaf meal starts with a server putting white rice in the center of a banana leaf and adding side vegetables, a choice of gravies (chicken, fish mutton and/or dhal) and papadum. The customer can control the portion size - I usually only want the first spoonful as I have watched others pile the food on. Our first meal was at Restoron Raju on Jalan Gasing, which was recommended by friends and a taxi driver. The prices were the high side, but the chicken and fish were great and worth the cost. The restaurant on a street with several framing shops and art galleries. A thunderstorm ended our cancelled our plan to arrive early and tour the galleries before meeting up with a friend.

A welcoming dasa

Cleaning the banana leaves
Nirvana is a neighborhood banana leaf restaurant, about 1.5 kilometers from our condo. Breakfast, lunch or dinner Nirvana is always has a crowd.  We had a vegetarian banana leaf - same as Raju, we just didn't include meat or fish in our orders. In addition to the vegetables we had a great pickle relish and rasum (a sour soup). I preferred the papadum at Raju, Doug and Brendan preferred the vegetables at Nirvana. No matter we had two good meals.

A trip to Paramount Gardens has to be carefully planned to avoid the lunch crowds. Arrive after 12 and you may have trouble finding a seat. Paramount Gardens is a short walk from the Paramount LRT station. The food court has about 15 stalls, but I never venture away from the assam laksa stall. No other assam laksi that I have had in KL comes close to being as good. The portion size is reasonable, the price (RM5) is great, and it loaded with fish. I ordered two (Doug had his usual pan mee, fried noodles with pork),  - only to find out that Brendan really wanted curry laksa (filled with coconut milk).  Like mothers everywhere I gave him the healthier choice.

We went into the center of KL to pick up shirts that Brendan had made at Custom made by Andy. It gave us an excuse to visit Sisters Kitchen at Menera Hap Seng where we could indulge in mango smoothies and mixed popiah (plain and crispy). We particularly like the crispy; Brendan pointed out that deep frying helps everything. On an earlier visit we added an order of ais kacang (also good, but we wanted to keep from having our stomachs exploding)

After a good lunch and filling snack we were at a loss for a dinner choice (too many possibilities). Brendan said soup dumplings, seafood, or Japanese sounded good. It was Vietnamese that got a warm response. We surfed the web, found Sao Nam in the same area as the popular street food area of Jalan Alor, and decided to check it out. A wise decision I can still taste the dinner. We start with beef la lot, which I have been looking for since we returned from Hue. It was better here, probably because Sunday night may not be the best time to visit a student run  restaurant. In Hue we didn't get lettuce, noodles, or fish sauce to wrap along the beef la lot. We also had a papaya salad, duck with tamarind sauce, and a crispy pancake.Everything was tasty and the flavors blended nicely. The dishes were served separately so that we could savor the taste of each.
Beef La Lot
Crispy Pan Cake - worth the trip across town
The last dinner on this four night eating binge was at Hakka Restaurant near Pavillion Shopping Mall. I have eaten there with the family of friends several times, but only during the day. At night the outdoor eating area is lit up and the nearby skyscrapers hover over the diners. As we sat down an attractive young woman in a fitted white dress (according to Brendan a la James Bond) asked if we wanted beer; Doug and Brendan's glasses were refilled every time they were half full. The food service was far less attentive. We had homemade Hakka noodles with minced pork, ginger, and spring onions; claypot tofu with mushroom, carrots, and pork (a real winner); Thai gai lan (similar to spinach) pan fried with garlic; tilapia breaded and deep fried in a spicy fruit sauce. Except for the fish we ordered small portions, which were adequate for the three of us. Due to the attentiveness of "the beer lady" Doug and Brendan drank two large bottles of beer.

One of our two breakfasts out was at  Aswara, a cafe about 1.5 kilometers downhill from our condo. Doug and Brendan had roti canai and I had a dosa masla. The food was good, but it was the atmosphere and convenience that won the day. We usually walk down to this part of Bangsar, which also includes Nirvana and the night market, and take a bus or taxi back. (The other breakfast was a major disappointment - so it will go unnamed.)

Bottom line - 8 meals; 7 at places worth revisiting. Now we are off to India. Not the best place to recover from this eating spree.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Aisling Visits Malaysia

In early September our niece, Aisling came to Kuala Lumpur for a week long stay.  Aisling is based in London, and the trip to Malaysia came following visits to Prague, Croatia, Rome and Singapore.  She also came bearing gifts (computer parts transported from Indianapolis via the family parcel transfer system). Thanks Brendan, Kelly and Aisling.

Sunday Sept 9

Arriving on a bus (First Coach) from Singapore, we met Aisling at the Bangsar LRT station (Light Rail Transit).  The bus made a quick stop in the shelter under the station (better than the bus company office around the corner).  A short taxi ride later we were at home.  We then did what most visitors to Malaysia do, went out to eat.

Kafe Chawan is a Malaysian/Indonesian style restaurant in Bangsar.  As are many restaurants here, it is open air (no a/c).  Unfortunately, it was also late (nearly 11 pm) and several of the items were sold out (the soup broth was gone, and the prawns were overcooked and soggy).  We had always eaten there at midday, so we learned.

Monday Sept 10

The next morning we were off to the Royal Selangor Pewter factory, our favorite tour spot for visitors.  The Royal Selangor Pewter factory offers a free factory tour every day.   We have visited the factory multiple times over the years, and the tour is always somewhat different.  The theme is the same, but the details and the stories vary.  I guess there are many stories for a family owned firm which extends back over a century.  They always offer a visit to the school of hard knocks....you get to make your own pewter bowl using traditional techniques, hammering.  None of our guests has taken us up on this.  As in most factory tours, it ends in a gift shop, but this gift shop is something else: pewter, sliver, and gold.  We only look at the pewter and all our guests have purchased something to take home.

Our guide showing us a pewter cup

Following our visit to the Royal Selangor Pewter factory we traveled to the Kuala Lumpur Crafts Centre. (a project of the Ministry of Tourism). This facility in downtown Kuala Lumpur features Malaysian crafts, some of which you can do yourself.  We visited a batik shop.  While Aisling painted (filled in the lines with dye), Liz and I went to an adjacent shop.  The artist who specializes in large batik paintings (1.5m x 3m).  He was facing eviction and was selling his wares are bargain prices.  When Aisling finished her painting, and arranged for it to be made permanent (drying and boiling it in water to remove the wax) we went to gift shop.  Nothing was purchased.

Painting carefully within the lines!

We had lunch at the Pavilion Shopping Centre in downtown KL  We went to the 6th floor and ate at an upscale raman restaurant on Tokyo Street.  Good food was had by all.  Following the meal we purchased mo chi and walked (in an A/C elevated walkway stretching 2 km to KLCC: a shopping center under the Petronas Twin Towers).  Along the way we ate the mo chi outside the KL Aquarium.

That evening we went to dinner at the Pacific Seafood Garden in Petaling Jaya, a favorite haunt of ours.  We feasted on 1/2 of a fish (deep fried) with a spicy Vietnamese sauce, sauteed vegetables, and peanut free chicken saute.  Next time we will get the whole fish and have it steamed.

Tuesday Sept 11 (a very special day)

Tuesday began slowly.  Liz had a meeting with Empower, a local NGO, but that was all to the good.  Aisling had let it be known that she enjoyed pancakes, something that Liz neither understands nor is gracious enough to allow others to eat them in peace and serenity.  So I was free to make pancakes including a Mickey Mouse!

We had a Korean cooking class at 2 pm.  We introduced Aisling to the KL monorail.  When we got to the appropriate building we were early so we went to Sisters.  We drank a surprising drink: a mango smoothie with mango flavored bubbles (ala bubble tea) and ate cendol, ais kacang and two types of popiah.



The cooking class was fun, especially watching the other students.  Taking pictures of food for documentation purposes is endemic in KL.  As the teacher was demonstrating different techniques while making bibimbop, a number of students jumped up, ran to the front of the room and took snaps of the food.  The class was fun, but I have no recipes.

Food prepared at Korean Cultural Center cooking class.

We worked our way back to Pasar Seni (central market).  Whilst Liz and Aisling perused the goods for sale, I went to purchase bus tickets on the Nice Plusliner to Penang.     I then went to the main post office to mail a cell phone battery to Bhutan.  It was either RM 86 via DHL or RM 4.10 via registered/insured Royal Malaysian Mail.  I chose the latter and it took over 3 weeks to get to its destination slightly better than the 6 weeks for postcards to go from Hue to the US.

Tuesday evening we went to My Elephant in SS17 Petaling Jaya.  We had been there many times previously, but our taxi driver decided to take an alternate route.  We finally made our way there.  We arranged for our taxi to return in 1.5 hours.  Dinner was served promptly and we exited the restaurant early.  I took out my mobile phone to call the taxi driver, the battery was dead.  I went back to the restaurant and explained by problem.  They opened a drawer, pulled out a charger and after 5 minutes or so I had a sufficient charge to make a call to the driver.  We got back to Bangsar Shopping Centre in time to chose pastries, and have them decorated to celebrate Aisling's birthday.

Happy Birthday Aisling!

Wednesday Sept 12

Aisling was a good sport and accompanied us to a framing shop.  We were arranging to have our painting from Bhutan re-stretched and framed.  (We have found that it is often cheaper to have an oil painting taken off its canvas frame and shipped in a tube.)  We were in and out of the framing shop in 15 minutes.  The painting would be stretched and framed in only 4 days at a total cost of $150 (a great bargain).  From there we returned to the Kuala Lumpur Crafts Centre to pick up Aisling's piece of art, and do some additional shopping.  And if you arrive too late to enter the store they have this option.

Yes, those are locally manufactured gifts.

We returned via the monorail and walked through the Jalan Petaling market during a tropical downpour (the market is covered).  A short trip to KL Sentral and we went off to view a Hindu temple.   We stopped for fried yams, curry puffs, and fried bananas.   The temple was closed but we did have a nice discussion with two older Indian attorneys.  Our day was completed with a bus ride to yet another mall (Mid Valley) where we searched for a paper shredder, moon cakes (it is the mid autumn harvest festival).  We finished the day with soup dumplings.

Yes, it is food yet again.  Soup Dumplings!

Thursday Sept 13

Thursday morning we were up early to get our bus to Penang.  Our prebooked taxi driver overslept so we needed to find an alternative taxi to get to the old KL train station.  Our bus ride to Penang was uneventful.  Checking into our hotel was uneventful and we off to lunch at the Selamat Cafe on Jalan Selamat.  We had roast duck rice, dim sum, iced lime drink, oyster omelet and pan mee.  A great meal and a very reasonable price:  under RM 30.

All is not eating in Malaysia, we did do some sight seeing.  We spent several hours wandering around the temple complex at Air Hitam.

Temple at Air Hitam

We then visited several Buddhist Temples in Geogetown proper.

The inside of the Burma Buddhist Temple

Lina (Liz's friend) came by to take us to dinner in a small fishing village. The fish cooked in a banana leaf, rice, and pan fried vegetables hit the spot.


BBQ Fish

Friday Sept 14

The next morning was our birthday gift to Aisling: cooking lessons at Pickle and Spice.  We got up early and met our chef at the Stewart Street market.  We were the sole students.  We ate breakfast (roti cani and teh tarik) began our market tour.  We visited the fish market, the vegetable markets, spice dealers, and the wet market (live chickens, mutton and beef).  Our menu for the day was Penang Assam Laksa, and Mee Goreng Mamak.

In the Stewart Street Fish market

We began our cooking lesson by chopping and grinding ginger, turmeric ginger, Indian shallots (the small red onions in Asian grocery stores), and lemongrass.  We used a motor and pestle.  Using a food processor does the chopping but introduces air into the items being ground increasing oxidation and destroying some of the delicate flavours.

Yes, I know how to use a mortar and pestle.

Aisling got the honor to scale and clean the mackerel we used in the Assam Laksa.  Unfortunately for Aisling, she is a relative and let me know that she is considering taking a butchery course in London.  Folks in Nevada, watch out when she takes out a knife!!

Concentration while using a knife is essential.
Three hours later, the cooking was done and we dined on our handy work

Mee Goreng Mamak

Penang Assam laksa
Following the class we went in search of some murals painted on Georgetown walls.  Evidently they can cause traffic jams on weekends with tourists taking pictures from car windows.

That afternoon, Lina dropped by and took us on an abbreviated tour of Pilau Pinang (Penang Island).  We saw the Straits of Malacca, Batu Ferringhi,and did a short walk to a waterfall.  Since it was September and not fruit season, we were unable to serve Aisling a local delicacy, the king of fruits - the Durian.  Being chauvinistic, Malaysian Durian are the best, and Malaysian food is much better than the Singaporean equivalent.

A storm over the straits of Malacca

Aisling and Lina

For our evening meal we ate at a local Indian banana leaf restaurant, which Liz lived to regret the next day.

Saturday Sept 15

Liz awoke under the weather, so Aisling and I went back to the Selamat Cafe for breakfast.  Since it was morning, we dined on a wide variety of Dim Sum.  After eating, the proprietor asked where Liz was?

Lina, always a saint, took us to the bus station (with a quick detour to TESCO for supplies) just in time to make our bus back to Kuala Lumpur.  At a bus stop, we watched as a gentleman was carried out of another bus, loaded into a pickup truck to be driven to a hospital.  No waiting for an ambulance here!

Back in Bangsar, Aisling and I went to "Burp", the Asian food court at a nearby mall (Bangsar Shopping Centre), and with that meal ended our culinary tour of Kuala Lumpur and Penang.  Only a sampling, but hopefully enough to have Aisling travel here again.

Sunday Sept 16

Since Aisling was travelling via Malaysian Airlines back to London, she was able to check in at our local train station.  With her luggage taken care of, it was a wave and Aisling went down the escalator and off to London.