Tuesday, September 30, 2008

TBA Day 18: Waiting for Stanley

Today I awoke relatively early in the morning (5:30am) after 10 hours of sleep to find a voicemail from Stanley explaining that his connecting flight out of Bahrain had been delayed 4 hours and thus he would be arriving much later than his original ETA of noon. I called his cell phone, thus managing to wake up Alicia at 4am since his phone is apparently with her and not with him (which makes sense, I suppose… it just didn’t occur to me until after people had been woken up).

While waiting to hear from him when he landed in Bangkok at 11:45am local time, I went about my day in paradise, starting with a fabulous breakfast. I didn’t bring my camera with me, and I’m not sure my ham & cheese omelette’s appearance would have blown your mind, but that was one seriously awesome omelette, let me tell you… It tasted totally different than omelettes I’ve had in the US or Australia… and I don’t know if it was a protein high or what (and the caffeine in the coffee may have contributed to my buzz), but I was feeling GOOD after breakfast… Really good… So good that I decided to mix things up by reading in the hammock down on the beach instead of the one on my porch. (Pretty wild, I know…)
I spent about 3 hours down there until things started getting a bit too warm, then retreated to my air conditioning and waited to hear from my big brother. After he arrived in Bangkok and gave me a call I let him know that, despite the last regular ferry leaving for Phangan at 4pm (before his flight lands at 5:20pm), there is one last ferry (the Haad Rin Queen) that leaves Big Buddha pier at 6:30pm. He didn’t seem to believe me that the pier was actually called Big Buddha (it is), but we hung up confident that he would make it Phangan tonight for cocktails on the beach. (Did I mention the beach bar at this resort? So awesome…)

With that settled, I went out to get some supplies (cash, water, beer) and ended up picking up a totally awesome hammock in the hammock district. (OK, actually just at a random store… but if anywhere (outside of Cypress Creek) had a hammock district, I think it would be Ko Phangan.) I suck at buying souvenirs (I bought a camera and a purse in Singapore, but I don’t think that counts), but I figured a hammock is the perfect way to commemorate my amazing time here, since I’ve spent almost all of my outdoor time lounging in one… I don’t know where I’ll be living in Boston, but I know it will have an outdoor space for a gas grill, so I can make sure there’s a place for a hammock, too… because life without hammocks seems pretty depressing at this point. I also got our elephant trek booked for tomorrow, fully confident that my brother will arrive tonight…

I had been thinking to myself “If all goes well, Stanley will be here at 7:40pm,” since the ferry should have landed at 7:20pm and a cab was supposed to take approximately 20 minutes. At 7:41pm (about 8 minutes after a torrential downpour started up), who do I see walking around the corner but my big brother! We headed over to have dinner (Spring Rolls, Penang Chicken Curry for me, Ginger Beef Something-or-Other for him), followed by a couple drinks (Johnny Walker Black) at the bar with the crazy drunk British guy who runs the place. Turns out he stalked me on google before I came and was surprised to find out I wasn’t an Aussie when I showed up… He tells me he doesn’t usually stalk his guests, so I suppose it’s a bit of an honor.
Stanley is now enjoying the hammock on the porch, and I’m off to bed… because he is fun and I am lame, that’s why. Elephants and a ferry to Ko Samui await tomorrow… I’ll let you know how that goes.

Monday, September 29, 2008

TBA Day 17: Just Another Day in Paradise

As I sat in the hammock on the porch of my bungalow reading a book today (By the way, I totally love hammocks! I never realized how totally awesome they are… maybe because most of my previous attempts to sit in them (at parties at the Venitia house) also involved holding a full martini glass which… doesn’t work.), I was amazed how totally peaceful and content I felt. It’s so beautiful here, and there’s absolutely nothing to do except relax and enjoy the surroundings. After a very very long day yesterday, it feels great just to be here. The internet connection is a bit erratic, but that just forced me spend a bit less time on football-watching (go Bucs!) today and a bit more time just enjoying this place. (View from my hammock shown below… The ocean is right behind those trees. In the choice between ocean view from the porch or air conditioning, I went with the A/C…)
The food here at Coco Gardens is pretty tasty, too (who knows if it’s authentic, but who really cares since it tastes good). I wasn’t about to go very far for lunch after just getting settled in, so I decided to try the on-site restaurant (I’d read pretty good things about it online). I ordered Massaman Curry Beef, which was really lovely (they used lime leaves, which I’ve never done before when I make Massaman curries at home, but which I will definitely be doing in the future) and was sort of exactly what I was in the mood for. The restaurant is down on the beach, too, so the ambiance was also quite nice...

My brother will be here tomorrow and will be joining me for the rest of the trip. Hopefully we’ll go ride some elephants on Wednesday before heading over to Ko Samui for a bit more paradise, then heading off to Bangkok, which (judging from descriptions from pretty much every backpacker I’ve met who was in Bangkok before coming to Malaysia) is anything but paradise. No doubt we’ll have fun regardless… Given his lower tolerance for repetition, maybe Stanley will even be able to make me listen to a different album for the first time in over a month…

Not much else to report. Yesterday sort of knocked me out, and now that it’s over and I’m here I’m just feeling really peaceful and mellow and content… and since I seem to be repeating myself already, I guess I will leave it at that for today.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

TBA Day 16: Booking? What Booking?

Yeah… So, that could have gone better.

I got up at 4am to get showered, packed, and checked out in time for my 5am mini-bus which… never showed up. I called the number they’d given me and was told there was no record of my booking having ever existed. The Malaysian guys who work the overnight shift at my hotel were really helpful, taking the phone from me and yelling at the guy in Malaysian, but in the end I was not going to be on that bus…

At 7am the travel agency where I’d purchased the ticket opened, and the woman there proceeded to yell at several people over the phone in Malay until she eventually got me a spot on the next bus at 8:30am. I’d hoped this would still be early enough, but it turns out only the 5am bus can get you to Koh Phangan the same day you leave Penang. Any later and you end up on the night boat. So, leaving 3.5 hours later meant arriving here 14 hours later than I would have (6am Monday instead of 4pm Sunday).

The first leg of the mini-bus trip (Penang to Hat Yai) wasn’t too bad, although nobody (including the driver) spoke any English so it was a bit rough with trying to figure out things like what was going on when we stopped (apparently for lunch) and the driver took all of our passports and walked away… I tried to ask a couple people if they knew how long we would be stopped, but to no avail. People seemed to be taking their time, so I ordered a tasty bowl of Curry Mee (Me: “Curry Mee” Noodle Guy: “What? You want like that?” (pointing at something on somebody else’s tray that wasn’t Curry Mee…) Me: “No. Curry Mee?” (pointing at the menu that says “Curry Mee”…) Him: “Oh! Curry MEE! Right…”) Once we got that sorted out (I swear to god our pronunciations were identical…) I had a delicious lunch, though.Throughout this drive I had a nagging fear (based on how the morning had gone) that I may just get dumped in the streets of Hat Yai when I got there, but the driver (who communicated with me solely by shoving me and pointing, plus occasionally saying “Koh Phangan?”) got me to a travel agency there, talked to them a bit on my behalf, then left. I was put on a mini-bus leaving in an hour. Now, the first mini-bus was pretty comfy, which I suspect may have something to do with all the other options available to you in Penang… The mini-bus out of Hat Yai? Not so much… They had parcels shoved under every seat, taking up any and all spaces where you might have liked to put your feet. We were crammed into that thing at full capacity for about 5 hours. Fantastic.

We got to Surat Thani and the guy just tried to dump me off at the pier, but my ticket was supposed to include the ferry so I wouldn’t let him leave until he told me what I do next. He gave a seriously exasperated sigh, stomped over to the ferry ticket stand, and threw down the 400 baht for my ticket, then stormed off. I guess he was hoping I wouldn’t think of that until he’d left? I don’t know… It was a bit shady, but it all worked out in the end… Now I just had 6 hours to kill until the night boat left…

While I was waiting I met a really nice British couple and lent them my Lonely Planet “Thai Islands and Beaches” so they could figure out what was going on. Apparently their mini-bus driver was openly hostile to them and had dropped them off in the wrong place, refusing to tell them even where they were. They actually needed to be 40km away from where they ended up in order to catch their ferry to Ko Samui, so they were looking for a travel office and/or a place to crash for the night. The guy found them a nearby hotel and they went off to get settled, but after they’d showered and had dinner they came back over and kept me company until 11pm when the boat was ready to board. This was really nice and was actually extremely helpful, since 11pm is way past my bedtime (especially when I’ve been up since 4am) and I might have passed out on a bench while waiting if it wasn’t for them.

The boat was pretty nice as far as such things go. I fell asleep almost immediately (although not fast enough to miss out on a monologue from this American idiot about what an amazing traveler he is and how all his friends with jobs aren’t even worth talking to because their lives could never be as interesting or fulfilling as his) and slept until we pulled into the dock.
I managed to forget my book on the boat (I think it ended up under my pillow) which is fine because it was a paperback that I’d replaced with a hardcover back home but sad because I was at a really good part and I have a hammock here that seems perfect for reading in… Ah, well. The important thing is that I’m in paradise now, sitting on the beach watching the Bucs game that I missed while I was on the boat. It’s hard to complain too much when this is your view…

Saturday, September 27, 2008

TBA Day 15: Last Day in Malaysia (featuring Bak Kut Teh)

I got a bit of a late start today because I decided to go ahead and watch the presidential debate (airing live at 9am) this morning. It’s probably the first time I’ve paid so much attention to such things but, as Stanley noted when we discussed it later, these things never make any difference anyway (as evidenced in striking fashion last election) so I’ll just leave it at that…

After the debate I set out to explore a bit down Gurney Drive, which is a road running along the coast where lots of expensive hotels are, as well as restaurants, a huge fancy mall, and what’s supposed to be a very good (though higher-than-average priced) hawker center. It was a gorgeous day other than the heat, and I found myself getting hungry (and about to die from heat exhaustion) when I happened upon a very busy open-air restaurant called Zealand Bak Kut Teh and Seafood.
I took a seat and ordered the Bak Kut Teh, a soup featuring a few different kinds of pork (pork rib, pork meatballs, pork shoulder, and pork belly) as well as mushrooms, tofu, and bean curd sheets all together in a wonderfully flavorful broth. It was served with steamed rice, a slightly sweet bread for dipping in the delicious broth, and some nice Chinese tea. The waitress also asked if I wanted steamed vegetables. I thought that sounded nice, although it turned out to be veggies with shrimp served in a really nice slightly spicy sauce. Tasty, but the result was that I was then dealing with way more food than I could reasonably eat for lunch.
All in all a really nice meal, though, and with the gorgeous view from my table (pictured below) I couldn’t complain, even if I never managed to make it all the way to that hawker center…
After lunch I wandered down a bit further to Gurney Plaza where, among other things, I watched a 6-year-old Asian girl playing Hava Nagila on an electric violin while doing little adorable dance steps and dressed in a glittery jumpsuit… I have no idea why that was happening, but it was fascinating and fairly awesome. Once I’d soaked in enough A/C to carry on, I grabbed a cab back to my hotel. The driver made the comment that if I’d tried to walk back in this heat I would have been barbecued by the time I got back, which I thought was cute. Turns out my brother is very wise in always telling me to take more cabs, and the cab ride home was US$5 very well spent.

I still can’t seem to eat like I used to, so a big meal like I had at 1pm pretty much does me in for the day eating-wise. It’s probably just as well since my transportation for the Thailand is picking me up at 5am tomorrow, so an earlier-than-usual bedtime would seem to be in order tonight. It feels so weird to just have this handwritten ticket from the travel agency while I’m setting off to board a mini-bus that will take me out of the country, transfer to another mode of transportation in Hat Yai (the first stop in Thailand), and then board a ferry to my final destination. It’s apparently all included in my ticket, and I’m sure it will be fine… I’m just used to booking things electronically so I have slight misgivings that my little handwritten paper ticket may not provide all that it’s supposed to. I guess there’s only one way to find out…

Friday, September 26, 2008

TBA Day 14: A Tour, a Garden, and More Butterflies

OK. So, I know that most people who read this blog are just checking in to make sure I’m having fun and/or that I didn’t die or anything while traveling alone through Southeast Asia. If I don’t manage to eat something delicious on a given day, it’s unfortunate for me but I suspect most people reading don’t particularly care… Yet, I realized as I was trying to force myself to leave the hotel (when I just want to go to bed) to go in search of delicious food (which I wasn’t particularly hungry enough to eat) that I’ve been feeling all this self-inflicted pressure to go eat something exciting every day even if doing so would be more work than fun… (And if you are actually reading this just for the food and are annoyed with me for not posting exciting food every day, to you I say “Dude. Get off my back. I’m on vacation…”)

I say all of this by way of apology for the fact that yet again there aren’t any food pictures in this post on my supposedly food-themed blog. I had muesli and an espresso for brekky up in the hotel’s “Leisure Garden,” followed by a fascinating (thousand island dressing? Really?) US$1 egg salad sandwich for lunch at a butterfly park, then a bit of delicious dried chilli pork, a couple crackers, and a beer for dinner (rather than leaving my room). Thrilling, I know… I sure do know how to have amazing culinary adventures, huh?

Now that I have the apologizing out of the way, I had a really lovely day. As I mentioned yesterday, all of the tours of the island had a 2-person minimum. When I was at breakfast, a girl at the next table asked “Are you going on our bus today?” After my answer of “What bus?” it was explained that they had heard that a single lady would be joining their group of 6 (British, German, Irish, and Aussie people aged 19-30 who are on a Bangkok-to-Singapore tour package together) on a tour of the island today. I’m not sure where that rumor started, but I looked into it and it was decided that I would be able to join them. Mostly I just wanted to see a bit of Penang outside of Georgetown, and the tour today accomplished that.

We stopped first at a spice garden, which I think even my gardening-obsessed parents would have found somewhat boring. It was beautiful, but it was still just a bunch of plants… From there we headed out to a butterfly park, where everyone was amazed by how fun such things can be. I actually really enjoyed it even though I’d just been to the one in KL, since the butterflies here seemed happier to get camera time. The white ones that were so elusive in KL were just lounging around waiting for you to photograph them here.
After the butterflies we headed up to take a look at a temple and get a hill-top view of Georgetown. I should mention, by the way, that it was also really nice just taking in the scenery along the coast as we drove from one location to the next. I was talking to an Aussie chick from the group while we were looking out over the city, and we were both surprised by how big and city-like the Georgetown area is. We were both sort of expecting a quaint little island town experience (with great food) when we came to Penang.

The tour group was a really friendly fun group of people, and it was a nice way to spend the day. At this point, though, I think I’m pretty much over this whole “doing stuff” thing and am really ready to get to my bungalow on Ko Phangan on Sunday. Tomorrow I’m hoping to hit the Gurney Drive hawker stalls and/or another culinary spot that I’d so carefully mapped out before my trip. I didn’t anticipate before I came how much I would really just enjoy hanging out in these cities doing nothing in particular. Turns out I’m having a really great time even without the “culinary” aspect of my adventure taking as prominent of a role as I’d planned… Further proof of my new-found philosophy that planning is for losers, I guess…

Thursday, September 25, 2008

TBA Day 13: Exploring Penang

So, my first impression of Penang is that I really dig this place. It's a nice size, people are friendly, and the terrain is super-flat... I don’t know if it’s getting cooler as I move north or if I’m just adapting to the heat, but I think I’ve finally been able to transition from “sweating” to “glistening” when I’m outside…
I went out and did a bit of exploring this morning on my way to find a travel agent to book my trip to Ko Phangan for Sunday (it was the one part of my trip I hadn’t been able to book in advance online, which was sort of stressing me out in the way that things that aren’t locked down in advance tend to…). As I mentioned above, this city is completely flat, which makes it a lot easier for a kid like me to get around a bit. The travel agent lady was really nice, and when I must have seemed like I was hesitating for a moment she asked where I was from. I told her and she said “Wow. You’re so very pretty! And nice!” Apparently (according to Stef) this is a common sales technique in Malaysia. Maybe it works (if only on a subconscious level), since I ended up booking the trip with her…

I’d noticed this morning and again when I went out to look at old buildings this afternoon that all these guys on scooters kept saying “hi” to me and trying to get my attention. On my way home this afternoon one of them actually pulled over ahead of me on the road so he could talk to me as I walked past. I’m not good at being a bitch (well, I suppose that’s not true… but I’m not good at being a bitch to strangers…) so I actually stopped to hear him out. He explained that he knows it sounds crazy, but he is looking for friends, and maybe I could spend some time with him and we could be friends. He clarified “I’m not going to make love to you, just spend the time,” which I honestly appreciated because I did feel less uncomfortable once I knew we were both aware that there would be no-love-making. In the end, when “no thank you” didn’t work I went with “I have to go now…” and walked away… but felt sort of like a jerk… Poor lonely Penang scooter-boys…
So, I ended up in Little India this afternoon around 4pm, and as the aromas started to waft around me I realized that (having missed lunch) I was definitely ready for some linner (or lupper, as some people call the lunch-dinner/supper version of brunch). I stopped at Restoran Kassim Mustafa for… chicken of some sort? (pictured below) and a really delicious mango lassi (with banana in it, which isn’t something I’d had before in a lassi…) for a grand total of US$2. The chicken curry thingy was really good and turned out to be pretty much exactly what I was feeling like eating today, so that worked out nicely. They do a pretty hopping business there with people pulling up on scooters and taking away baggies filled with delicious curry from the vats in front of the guy by the street. Good stuff…
I was hoping to take a tour around the island this afternoon, but they apparently have a 2-person minimums on everything so that didn’t work out… I’ll have to see if I can track down a tour that doesn’t discriminate against single people tomorrow… All in all a really nice day, though, which I will now cap off by sitting around with my book for a while. In conclusion: Yay, Penang!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Since you asked…

I was tagged (with some skepticism about whether I would respond) by Midge over at Lipstick & Legalese to list six quirks about myself, and since I have nothing better to do on this lazy afternoon in lovely Penang, I figured I’d go ahead and prove her wrong…

Six Emily-Quirks:

1) Feet: I have major issues with (other people’s) feet. I’m not comfortable having other people’s bare feet anywhere near me, and am DEFINITELY not OK with said feet touching me in any way. Ew.

2) Slugs: I have an extreme (completely irrational) fear of slugs. It was more than a year after the baby-slugs-on-my-organic-bok-choy incident (Oh my god… I’m pretty sure the neighbors thought I was getting ax-murdered from the screams of terror coming from my apartment…) before I was able to feel OK cooking with bok choy again… and even then I made sure to get it pre-packaged just in case… I know rationally that they’re not going to chase me down and kill me or anything, but they seriously freak me out. [Shudder]

3) The OCD thing: I guess to say that I’m a little bit OCD is to make a massive understatement. I’m a huge fan of schedules, lists, structure, planning, and order… and I schedule my meals 2-3 months in advance (which is totally practical because then you can put your grocery lists in your PDA and always have the right ingredients around to make delicious food)… I’m working on this one inasmuch as it occasionally interferes with my ability to experience spontaneous fun, but I still think some facets of it are very practical and just result in good time-management and organization skills….

4) Football: This is pretty much a variation on (3) I suppose, but I am a bit of an obsessive NFL fan(atic). As an unsuspecting Canadian in KL discovered, I will go ahead and spend several hours discussing football with you in great detail if you don’t stop me… and I bought an adorable little computer for my trip just to be sure I could still stream all the Bucs’ games even as I was backpacking through southeast Asia… The thought of missing Weeks 2-5 of the NFL season was almost enough to make me re-think this trip (which, yes, is ridiculous)… I think it’s safe to say that I care a little too much…

5) Repetition: In yet another variation on (3), I have a tremendous capacity to enjoy the same thing over and over and over again without getting tired of it… This is evidenced by things like the fact that I’ve listened to You & Me by The Walkmen over 100 times (at least) since I first heard it about a month ago (and I’m still listening to it as I type this), that I’m currently re-reading Sometimes a Great Notion for the 10th or 11th time, that I went ahead and watched The Wire in its entirety a second time right after the first time I finished it… This comes in handy with cooking for myself, though, since I really love having leftovers and never get tired of eating the same (presumably delicious, since I made it…) meal more than once or twice….

Wow… Six is a lot… Ummm….
6) I guess I’ll throw in my love of Boy Bands and High School Chick Movies here… In both cases I started out enjoying them somewhat ironically, then ended up thinking they’re genuinely totally and completely awesome. Have you listened to the Hangin’ Tough album in its entirety lately? Great freaking album, dude… (I’m can’t wait to see the New Kids in Portland in November…) and I think It’s Gonna Be Me is one of the 5 greatest pop songs of all time… I also never get tired of Drive Me Crazy, Center Stage, Step Up, and Ice Princess, all classics in the genre.

That was harder than I thought… I’ll tag Stanley over at SalazMeyer and Maggie over at Papaver Jewelry and see if they’ll play along…

TBA Day 12: The Lap of Luxury

Perspective is a funny thing. If you showed me the above picture a month ago, I'd say it looks like a cheap hotel room. Sitting in that room today, I'm telling you it's the most awesome room in the entire world. I don't know where to begin... There's the ELEVATOR to get to the room for one thing, the A/C (standard in all my rooms this trip so far because I am a wimp), the private bathroom that even features one of those fancy "bathtub" thingys instead of just having the shower spray directly onto the floor and/or toilet, a freaking mini-fridge and TV (!) and an actual bed that isn't just a mattress on/near the ground. This is my last hotel before I head off to island bungalows, and I'm feeling quite pleased with my choice. I was already pretty psyched about arriving in Penang, but when I walked into my room and went through the "Wow! This is the fanciest place EVER!" feelings I became that much more optimistic that a good time will be had here.

Travel went really well today... I had a lovely 7 hour train ride (comfy first class seat, beautiful scenery, great book to read) followed by a quick ferry ride over to Penang and a cab to my hotel. The only rough part of my trip was the cab ride to the train station in KL. My driver started off by explaining to me that all Muslims are stupid (because they have the audacity to try to travel outside of Arabic-speaking countries without learning English first) and are also useless and horrible people. He forayed briefly into shock and horror about the fact that I am not married even at my advanced age (and explained to me that only god can determine whether or not I have babies, I have no say in the matter... which... um... I'm pretty sure that's not true... at least based on my understanding of where babies come from...) and then went back to decrying Malayisa as a horrible place because there are too many Muslims. Needless to say, I was quite happy to arrive at the train station and get far away from him...

It's past my bedtime, so I'm going go to take a shower (without even leaving my room!!!) and hit the hay. Looking forward to exploring Penang in the morning...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TBA Day 11: One Last Good Day in KL

This day started out with me deciding that there had been enough hiding out in my room, so (after watching Monday Night Football) I set out to explore the city a bit more. I mostly wandered through a few massive, absurdly fancy shopping malls (and bought a sarong for my upcoming island time). I kept thinking how much Midge would enjoy the window shopping, with storefronts for all these absurdly expensive brands I’ve only heard of on TV (with one notable row including Herm├Ęs, Versace, Prada, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Montblanc, and Burberry all lined up side by side). I was actually in this crazy mall looking for a pharmacy, and I finally tracked down a pharmacist to ask about my lack of appetite. She gave me this magical probiotic pill that’s supposed to improve your immune system, improve digestion, and increase appetite. Not sure if it was the magic pill or not, but by the time dinner rolled around I was at least able to eat something substantial (finally).

I had tried to use the laundry service at my hostel on Monday but the service never picked up my clothes so I wouldn’t have been able to get my clothes back before I checked out today. The people at desk sent me down the road to a hostel that has laundry service and the extremely nice woman there helped me out (I guess I’ll know for sure how well that went when I go over there in a couple hours to pick up my laundry before heading for the train), and I ended up striking up a conversation with an American-looking guy in the lobby who seemed to be about my age. Turns out he’s actually a Canadian, but still manages to be one of the more obsessive NFL fans (Vikings) that I’ve met in a very long time. We sat around talking about football for like two hours, and he ended up joining me for dinner as well (which rocked because it meant more foods to try… and also good company, of course…).

We went to Enak, which is an actual fancy-ish restaurant that I’d read a lot of recommendations for on Chow.com.
For appetizers he ordered the Satay (satay over here is immeasurable better than what you usually get in the US) and I ordered calamari with chili sauce, both of which were extremely delicious.

For main courses the waiter accidentally tricked him into ordering a third dish, so we ended up with Beef Rendang, a Chicken Curry, and… some other beef thing that was ordered mostly because it was the only other beef dish that wasn’t supposed to be super-spicy (Canadian-guy is a apparently a bit of a spice wimp) and which (despite being the least aesthetically pleasing of the three dishes) turned out to be the best-tasting thing we ordered.
The Beef Rendang was different than most I’ve had in Melbourne, but still pretty good, with (to employ wine-speak) a really lovely complex flavor on the finish. (I think I like the version I make better, but that’s probably just because my version is Emily-style and thus exactly suited to my tastes.) The chicken curry was nothing to write home about, but the random beef thing was seriously good. The meat was nicely charred to give a great depth of flavor. I’m going to have to figure out what it was called so I can try to make it at home. It was fun to put on some less scrappy clothes and sit in an actual restaurants (napkins and everything!) with some good company and enjoy a tasty meal on my last night in KL.

In the end I would say I don’t think I would necessarily come back here. I don’t tend to like cities that are too big and when I like them it’s typically because they are both flat and possessing a subway/lightrail system that can get you near almost any destination (like in Melbourne, Singapore, and Boston). When I’m forced to take cabs (or drive) to get anywhere, I end up feeling less free to explore the city and just don’t develop the same affinity for the place. The flat terrain, amazing subways, and general accessibility ( including escalators and elevators everywhere you encountered stairs on the subways) that made Singapore a big city I really enjoyed are things that just weren’t there in KL. It’s not a bad city, and I’m definitely glad I came… KL and I just didn’t make a connection the way Singapore and I did... Which is to say: it's not you, KL, it's me.

Day 12 will be spent almost entirely in transit, after which the adventure continues in Penang…

Monday, September 22, 2008

TBA Day 10: Worst Food Blogger Ever

Today was pretty much dominated by the fact that I had to wake up after less than 3 hours of sleep to start watching 10 hours of NFL football starting at 1am. The games this morning were totally awesome, but by the time they were over I was in desperate need of a nap and crashed until after 3pm. I’ve been overdoing it a bit ankle-wise around here, so I decided I should combine my need to let my ankles recover with my desire to be lazy and spend the rest of the day hanging out with my book enjoying my hostel. (Anjung's outdoor area pictured below.)
It was a really lovely day as far as such things go. Pleasantly uneventful, and thus nothing really to write about and resulting in my shortest post ever… Around 7pm I ventured out to Jalon Alor to find dinner at one of the many hawker stalls, and a lot of things were looking pretty tasty but I just really wasn’t hungry at all (again), so apparently I’m still having RTS issues… I was going to go back at 8pm, but I’m still not hungry and I’m completely exhausted so I’m thinking bed would be a better option right now.

This is getting seriously frustrating. Usually I joke that I may have Prader-Willi Syndrome because I seldom am not hungry. (I usually feel less hungry after meals, but never actually full.) Now it’s been almost a week since the last time that I felt like eating something (anything, even a few bites) wouldn’t make me uncomfortably full. (Even the small sausages last night when I thought I was doing better I could barely finish.) There’s so much awesome food around, and that food was sort of the whole point of this trip, and it’s starting to look like I’ll be leaving KL the day after tomorrow without ever really experiencing the food.

At this rate I may have to give up and re-title this blog “Aventures of an Over-Invested Bucs Fan.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

My (Brief) Apparently-Weekly Bucs Post

I'm not sure my heart is cut out for this stuff. I think I almost had a heart attack during the final (game-tying) Bucs drive in regulation... Huge win for the Bucs to pull out after what looked like certain defeat.

The positives:
  1. Michael Clayton looked solid today for the first time in a long time. It was really nice to see. Antonio Bryant (who last week dropped more balls than he caught) was solid, as well, coming up with some huge plays when we desperately needed them. Maurice Stovall still seems to think the ball has cooties, but Clayton, Bryant, and Hilliard (along with the depth at tight end, including a resurgent Jeramy Stevens) should be enough to get us by until Galloway is back to his usual amazing self.
  2. Barrett Ruud's interception in the end zone was pretty impressive. I love that guy.
  3. Gaines Adams' interception return for an acrobatic touchdown put a smile on my face. Good kid.
  4. The Bucs won.
The negatives:
  1. The run game got shut down pretty early, due in large part to continuing problems with the offensive line. This is not good, as it means laying everything on Griese's shoulders.
  2. The announcers were discussing how many 4th-quarter comebacks Griese has led in his career (this was his 10th). You know how you lead a lot of 4th-quarter comebacks? By putting your team in giant holes earlier in the game. Griese's 2nd and 3rd INTs this game were pretty bad. With about 4 minutes remaining in regulation (when I was fairly certain the Bucs had lost) this had me wondering if we'd be seeing the start of the Luke McCown era next week... (Which would be a mess for a slew of other reasons.) Then Griese pulls out the huge comeback and it looks like we're stuck riding the Griese rollercoaster for a while longer.
  3. Ronde Barber got burned. Badly. Several times. That should never happen and kind of messes with my world view...
  4. I've lost faith in Gruden. I've defended him against detractors for years now, and I've tried to place most of the blame for the shady way the organization treats it vetarans on Bruce Allen (even though I knew in my heart that wasn't really how it was). Benching the best QB on your team after one (mediocre) week over what seems to be off-the-field personal issues is not smart, especially when your backup plan is Brian Effing Griese. If he'd benched Garcia for McCown then I could see it as building for the future, but this? This practically looks like he decided to sabotage the season for reasons I can't begin to fathom.
That's all. Thrilled to get the win, and had a lot of fun watching this crazy game in the wee morning hours. I've been through seasons with QBs like Griese (and with Griese himself, actually) and I realize I just need to get used to the bumpy ride that inevitably awaits as the season continues. It's tough loving this sport, man... But at least I'm not a Seahawks fan. ;-)

Day 9: Butterflies, Thunder, and Pork

Still having a bit of the RTS today, but I think I’m making progress towards recovery… (Yesterday I didn’t even enjoy the smell of food because it just made me go “Uch. I couldn’t eat a single bite right now,” whereas today food has been smelling delicious even though I really don’t feel hungry…)

I took a culinary tour of the neighborhood around noon and confirmed that I chose a great place to stay: there are like 10 places where I would love to eat within a block of my hostel. Still, I wasn’t hungry yet so I decided to head down to Chinatown and see what things looked like over there. That is one bustling neighborhood, dude… And in case you were about to ask (as about 50 people there did), the answer is “No. I do not want a massage. Really. Please stop following me with you pamphlet now. I am fine. Thank you.” I saw a busy stand selling popiah, so I decided to try one (their small size made them seem like a good option for somebody with RTS). It was pretty tasty, but not nearly as good as the one in Melaka… Then I wandered past a store called Bee Cheng Hiang and was lured in by the pretty pretty barbecued/dried meats inside… I got the Chilli Pork (below) and it was so very very delicious. (Probably not good that the first awesome thing I ate in KL was from a chain based in Singapore, but whatever…) I may have to head back there to get some train snacks before I head to Penang.
After Chinatown I went to the Butterfly Park, which was (somewhat surprisingly) pretty darn fun. It turns out butterflies are totally awesome. Who knew? While the bird park was interesting and the birds in their cages were adorable, this was more interactive. You’ve got all these gorgeous exotic butterflies whizzing past your head and you’re stalking them with your camera, hoping they’ll land somewhere long enough for you to take their picture so you can show your friends how pretty they were… Also, there were bunnies! fI don’t think the tropical climate they maintain in the butterfly park is probably the funnest place for a rabbit to hang out, but they were so cute. There were even tiny little baby ones… and slightly bigger babies sitting in the food bowl, as they do. There were also turtles and koi, but definitely the butterflies were worth the trip on their own. Good stuff.
I had a couple more ideas of things to do after the butterflies, but as I was preparing to leave I started hearing some pretty intense thunder. By the time I got outside I found myself in the middle of a totally kick-ass thunder storm. I’ve never heard such loud thunder in my life, and the sky just opened up and poured down rain… When I made it back to the bus stop there was a nice British couple there (they’d gotten off the bus at the same time as me, but had gone to see the deer park instead of the butterflies) and we had a nice time chatting while we waited for the bus. There was a family from New Zealand on the bus when we boarded, and we all enjoyed watching the storm through the windows and talking about our travels… I think the main thing I miss when I’m not around people who speak English fluently is the sarcasm and jokes (I’ve learned from many bad experiences that usually by the time the sarcastic thing is translated, it ends up being taken literally…). Such a large percentage of the things that I usually say are sarcastic or facetious, and I think I start to feel less like me when I have to try to choose the simplest word possible and to not confuse things with sarcasm. It was refreshing to just be able to laugh and joke with some folks…

The rain storm pretty much killed my adventurous spirit and put me in a coffee-and-my-book kind of mood, so that was the rest of my afternoon… The magical Chilli Pork (so good!) seemed to work wonders in thwarting my reverse tapeworm, though, so I was back in business (finally) for a bit of dinner. I was in the mood for a hunk of protein uninterrupted by stuff like, well, anything that wasn’t meat, so I went to a meat shop I’d seen on my neighborhood tour earlier and got a couple small delicious-looking (and, I would soon discover, delicious-tasting) sausages (one garlic, one chilli) for a total of US$1.20. The shop also had something similar to (but not quite as good as) the chilli pork I’d had earlier and I decided to order some just in case I needed it later to combat a relapse of the ol’ RTS. Now, I’m not sure how pathetic white people usually are with spice, because the guy says “Oh. It’s very spicy. Are you sure?” and I was like “Yeah. Spicy is great!” and smiled and gave a thumbs up. Then he still made me try a small bite to make sure I could handle the “spice,” which turned out to be basically non-existent (and not just by Emily-standards, I would say…). Whatever…

After dinner I headed down to see the Petronas Towers at night. Those are some seriously beautiful towers, dude. I was impressed in the daylight yesterday, but they’re absolutely stunning at night…
I’m going to try to get in a nap now before the Bucs take on (and, one would hope, annihilate) the Bears at 1am…

Saturday, September 20, 2008

TBA Day 8: Being a Tourist

(Written Day 8 but posted the next morning since I was too tired to mess with pictures that night)

Still suffering from RTS (Reverse Tapeworm Syndrome), I knew I (tragically) wasn’t up for any culinary adventures today and I decided to go ahead and get the tourist thing out of the way…

Part of the reason I chose this hostel was that their web page mentioned they have a tours desk. So, I asked at the desk last night if there were any tour thingys to just basically see the city, given that I couldn’t walk very far. The guy consulted with his colleague in a language I don’t speak (at one point turning to me to clarify “You can’t even walk 2km?”) and they told me the only option if I really couldn’t walk was to take cabs everywhere. OK… So this morning I started looking into the public transit system and it looked like that might be a workable way to see the city (I have an aversion to taking cabs, which I know Stanley is rolling his eyes about as he reads this story). I set out towards the nearest lightrail station, but the terrain in KL is not nearly so flat as that in my beloved Singapore so this was looking like a bad idea. Just as I was about to give in and call a cab, a brightly colored double-decker bus with a web address listed on the side went rushing by. I went back to my room to check it out online, and it turns out it’s a tourist bus that stops at pretty much every major attraction in the city and you can hop on and off for 24 hours after buying your ticket (almost like exactly what I was asking the guy at the tours desk for!).

The map on the web page was a bit too qualitative (lots of cartoons, no cross-streets) to tell where the pick-up points were, but it appeared there was one in my neighborhood. I went to the front desk and asked the woman there about the pick-up point for the KL Hop On Hop Off shuttle. She instead showed me on a map all the places I should go and then said I should really just walk. I explained that I couldn’t and she, too, seemed perplexed that even a mere 2km (over massively hilly roads, I might add) was too far for me but finally pointed me to the stop, which turned out to be about 30 feet from the hostel’s front door. The shuttle was US$12, which is fairly pricey by backpacker-in-Malaysia standards, but it turned out to be a really nice comfortable way to see the city. I only stopped at 3 places, but I also got an idea of other places I’ll go back and hit on my own (perhaps via a dreaded taxi ride).

So, I went to the Petronas Twin Towers (which are really quite lovely),
I went to KL Tower and up to the observation deck,
and I went to the bird park, which is apparently the largest covered bird park in the world. There was a bird show, which I’m used to seeing birds of prey in, but this was a bunch of trained macaws and stuff and it was pretty adorable (although my favorite bird was still the eagle that flew past like 6 inches above my head). I also loved the Palm Cockatoos, which look so awesomely cranky. Good times…
That’s about it for an uneventful but oddly tiring Day 8. Not sure what the heck is wrong with me and this RTS situation, but hopefully I’ll be ready to find (and be hungry enough to consume) some delicious food tomorrow. So far I’m not really feeling KL, but it’s probably not fair to judge before trying the food… Still, as far as first impressions go, this doesn’t really feel like my kind of town… but hopefully I’ll find out in the next couple days that my first impression was wrong.

Friday, September 19, 2008

TBA Day 7: Getting to KL

(Written Day 7 but posted the next morning since the internet was being sketchy)
Today was pretty uneventful. Woke up feeling well-rested, had a cup of coffee, let Ringo call my cab, then it was off for a pleasant drive to the train station followed by a 2-hour train ride to Kuala Lumpur. Now, everyone kept telling me that the bus is the way to go, but after relaxing in my lovely, spacious seat in the First Class A/C car, I find that hard to believe. If I’m going to be in one place for more than an hour or two, I’d rather add a little time in exchange for increased comfort any day… The seats in First Class are seriously comfortable, and I booked the seat on the side with only one seat per row so I got both armrests (without having to fight for them)… ooh, AND they give you a bottle of water and a muffin when you get on board. So nice! Thus, even though I know a bus to Penang only takes 5.5 hours and the train takes 7.5 hours, I will be taking the train again in 5 days. I’d SO much rather sit in a luxurious seat on the train (even for 2 hours longer) than sit in a cramped seat on bus, and I’m in no rush. As I discovered (again) today, I’m pretty useless when I get to my destination. All I want to do is take a shower, collapse in my room, then go to bed…

In other news, I missed out on round 2 of laksa this morning due to complete lack of hunger. I tried to make myself go but there was no way I would have been able to even make a dent in it, and then I would feel like a jerk (and like I was indicating that I didn’t enjoy what surely would have been a great dish). I think I may have acquired what Steph and I always referred to as a “reverse tapeworm,” which mysteriously makes you never be as hungry as you should be. This is no time for such things, dammit! I better wake up starving tomorrow…

I ended up changing my reservation last night to a place called Anjung KL. They got me a first floor room, but when I arrived I discovered that those don’t have windows, so I decided to endure one flight of stairs in exchange for a window. As I sit in my lovely room that looks like a nice place to hang out rather than like a prison cell, I think that was the right call... The guy tried to put me upstairs in a room with a window initially, even though I would have to change rooms after the first 2 nights, then I told him about the ankle thing and he put me on the main floor and I went to check out my room/cell. When I decided 2 minutes later that I wasn’t going to enjoy that room, a couple had walked in and jacked my good room for tomorrow night. So tomorrow I’m moving to the room next door (no window, but nice bed), then the night after that I’ll move to the room next door to that on the other side (which is a lot like the lovely room I’m in tonight) for the remainder of my stay…

Tomorrow I’ll set out to explore KL, but today I’m pretty much done for… My hostel is in a really cool neighborhood with lots of hawker stalls and restaurants right outside the front door, which should be fun. It’s actually located right next to several things I’d marked in purple (meaning “must try”) on my google maps, so that’s convenient. The cabs here are much easier than in Melaka, too. As far as I could tell, the only way to call a cab in Melaka was to call Ringo and have him call you one, whereas here there are several companies you can easily call up for a ride.

It amazes me that even a post about a day when nothing at all happens can get this long… Geez…

Thursday, September 18, 2008

TBA Day 6: Tom Jones = Role Model

Today was one of those lovely contented days that I've been experiencing so often on this trip so far...

On the way home from dinner last night, Ringo drove us past the place to get the good laksa (Jonker Dessert 88), which turned out to be only about 2.5 blocks from the hostel over very flat ground, making it fairly walking-distance. I decided to venture over there for breakfast this morning and get my laksa fix. Ringo feels I should have ordered the Seafood Curry Laksa, but I'd been wanting to try asam laksa and had heard that the Nyonya Asam Laksa here was pretty darn good, so I went that route (even though the asam laksa is more of a Penang thing, apparently, and I'll be in Penang soon enough...). I'm used to curry laksa with its much creamier coconut-milk based broth, but the asam laksa is less creamy and has a nice lime-y sourness to it. Super-yummy and definitely something I hadn't tried before.
As I was eating my breakfast, two backpackers who had been at dinner with me the night before wandered in for their last meal in Melaka and joined me at the table. They ordered one of each of the two laksas I'd been deciding between and, upon seeing the curry laksa, I decided I'll go back tomorrow and try that one as well. When we finished eating, they called Ringo for help getting a cab to the bus depot. He came by the restaurant and then arranged that the cab take me back to the hostel (for free) on its way to the bus depot. Because he's awesome like that.

On a side note, the backpackers had seen me use my FlipStick when we were waiting in line for dinner last night and apparently thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was pretty cute watching them mime to Ringo (while speaking something I don't speak and can't accurately identify) how I was able to just unfold my stool and sit right down. Ringo translated that they wanted the ordering information, so apparently the FlipStick is awesome in any language and will soon be sweeping Asia...

The "plan," (if you're one of those silly people who insists on "planning" things) for the day was to hop on a touristy bus thingy after breakfast and tool around the city a bit... but I got a good amount of tourism in yesterday on my trishaw and was really getting more of a sitting-around-with-a-book kind of vibe from the day than a spending-half-the-day-waiting-at-bus-stops-in-the-sweltering-heat vibe... Thus, below was my view for most of the day (the parts when I wasn't destroying the earth by blasting the A/C in my room and reading under a cozy blanket, that is).
At one point while reading in the common area, Ringo came through and I asked him about the framed picture of Tom Jones hanging on the wall behind me. It turns out it's there because Tom Jones is a great role model for all of us. Apparently he was homeless and starving when somebody gave him his big break, he impressed the right music industry people, and the rest, as they say, is history... Now, some of you fact-checkers may notice that this is not the story you find in places such as Wikipedia (he was the child of poor coal-miners, though...), but who am I to tarnish somebody's image of their role model? The utter cheesiness of Tom Jones always puts a smile on my face, so I like that the picture is there...

One last example of the awesomeness of Ringo: I needed to grab some more Malaysian money before heading to KL, but apparently the only ATMs are at banks and banks are far from the hostel. So Ringo, being awesome, drove me to the bank, and then (since I hadn't gone on the bus tour) gave me a little car tour of the sites until he got called back to work. Awesome.

I don't have to leave until 10:30am to catch my train tomorrow (giving me just enough time for delicious breakfast laksa), and I don't seem to have any form of food poisoning (yet?) so I'm optimistic that tomorrow's day of travel may be more pleasant than my day getting to Melaka...

After dinner update:

And... Even a mellow, not-so-OCD Emily is still very much an introvert. Wow. Ringo was taking the 6 new lodgers to dinner. It was a ways away so he was going to walk them there, then come back and drive me there to meet them... then the place was closed and he took them to the same place as last night. OK... I'll still go to be social... That was a bad idea. I'm so deeply exhausted right now and have been since I got to dinner. I wasn't particularly hungry so I ended up mostly trying to pretend to be perky and social. Ringo felt bad about dragging me to the same place and insisted on taking me past the place with the best poh piah in town (and in Malaysia in general, according to him). I was like "Dude, I'm so freaking tired. Can I please just go home and go to bed?" No. That was not going to work. We got the poh piah (a vegetarian wrap thingy) as take away, he dropped me back at the hostel, I took a bite, and... Well, that's actually pretty darn delicious. You win, Ringo.
I am now in my air-conditioned room with the door locked, and they're going to have to pick the lock and drag me out of here if they want me to be social any more today (Ringo seems to think we'll all be hanging out later tonight... when I will be sleeping...). Sigh... I'm looking forward to the semi-solitude of a travel day tomorrow. I think it will be at least a day before I'm ready to interact with people again...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

TBA Day 5: Melaka State of Mind

Dude. This place is so mellow (in a really good way). I have a tendency to be a bit… um… “intense” about things, but after my first full day here I just can’t seemed to get too bothered about things. I think in Singapore I sort of had a “to do” list of places I had to go, and (although I had an awesome time) it didn’t really feel like a vacation. Melaka totally feels like a vacation. Ringo (whose actual name is apparently not Ringo, but I’ll stick with calling him that anyway for the sake of continuity) was going to take me to the best laksa place in town tonight but apparently they’re closed, so he promised I can try it tomorrow… This is the type of thing that I would typically find extremely exasperating, but thanks to my new Melaka attitude I was just like “Darn. Well, OK… Whatever…” when he told me that my plans had been thwarted. It’s highly impractical to be in a hurry here or to try to be on a schedule. You may think (and I did think, until today) that would drive an OCD kid like me insane, but it’s actually extremely refreshing.
Today for lunch Ringo was going to order some satays from the (allegedly) famous shop two doors over for me (to save me a trip down the stairs) but they were closed (places seem to be open/closed somewhat arbitrarily here) so he took me down to the place next door for dim sum and brought his own whole-leaf Chinese tea to have with my meal. He got me hooked up then wandered off to deal with new people checking in. It turned out to be more than one person could reasonably eat, but for US$3.50 it still seemed like a good deal. The steamed things were sort of average, but the fried things were super-delicious. Sad that that’s so often the way of things…

After lunch I decided to fully embrace my tourist nature, so Ringo hooked me up with a trishaw ride, pedaled by the tiny old man pictured below:
Apparently you often have to wander out to the trishaw place, but he made sure the guy could pick me up and drop me off at the hostel, which I really appreciated. It was a pretty nice mellow way to see the city. He took me past all the temples and tourist attractions and pointed to indicate when I really ought to be taking pictures. What I hadn’t anticipated was being forced to have my picture taken at pretty much every tourist spot. He didn’t speak English well enough to understand that this really wasn’t necessary, but I now have a collection of maybe 30 pictures in the category “Emily standing in front of things looking increasingly hot and tired” (example below) from my 2-hour trishaw ride. I have a theory that if I shuffled the pictures you would be able to put them in chronological order to within 10 minutes based on the degree of hot-and-tiredness that is evident…
Nonetheless, there were lots of cool (and really old) buildings and 300-year-old streets to be seen, and it was fun getting a closer look at the city.

After a couple hours recovering in the A/C of my room with a book, it was time for dinner (even if that dinner was not going to involve the best laksa in Melaka). Ringo took me and four other lodgers to Capitol Satay, which is apparently a place we would eternally regret having missed if we didn't go... (Because Ringo is awesome, he drove us over since it was too far for a kid like me to walk.)
It’s one of those places where you have a big pot of the satay “gravy” boiling away in the middle of the table and you choose meats and veggies on sticks to dunk in it to cook… Sort of like fondue except with spicy, peanuty goodness… Each stick was US$0.20, including the giant (like 6”) prawns you can barely see in the background of the second picture below (in which “Ringo” is explaining how eat something…). He also taught us how to peel said shrimp using only our teeth while holding the skewer, which is apparently how it's done. The losers at the other tables only got tiny pathetic shrimp, but Ringo knows people so we got the giant-prawn-and-abalone treatment at our table (still for just 20 cents/skewer). It was fun to hang with other backpackers, and I love that Ringo is so dedicated to making sure his guests enjoy themselves and have good food…
It’s funny. The whole reason I came to Melaka was for the laksa (and, mark my words, I will be trying some tomorrow with or without Ringo’s help), and before I got here I would have told you that coming to Melaka would be a complete waste of time if I didn’t get to try Melaka-style laksa… But, you know… It’s really not going to kill me if the laksa thing doesn’t happen, and I’ll still be extremely glad I came to check out Melaka. It’s like people are always telling me (for some reason), life is too short to stress about the little stuff… My response to pretty much anything bad that comes up now is "Eh. Whatever. It will all work out somehow..."

As I’ve always said the opposite of (but now find oddly true): Plans are for losers, dude.