Thursday, November 27, 2008

To Cambodia.

Well, Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We may have found a way out. Instead of turkey and stuffing, I may be eating amok and samlor in Siem Reap. We are potentially going to have to travel overland to Cambodia, and then fly out of there. Bonus! We thought we were done with long bus trips, but we'll be travelling all day tomorrow. Bonus! We have to deal with the nasty Cambodian border crossing, where everybody wants a bribe. Bonus! We are only waitlisted for a flights once we get to Seoul, so we may have to spend a night.

Thanks, PAD.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Never mind, I'm stuck.

Leaving Asia?

Well, I may be departing from Asia late this evening.

Then again, I may be stranded in Bangkok indefinitely, thanks to the efforts of the anti-government mob who have stormed the airport.

I am trying-- desperately trying-- to leave Asia on a positive note. Because, yes, there have been things that I didn't like-- the constant pollution, loose city sidewalks that splatter muddy water, nasty taxi drivers, agonizingly slow Lao buses, being called 'friend' by touts, the ubiquitous Korean mullets on teenagers, massive insects, tacky tourists who think that being in Thailand is justification for going shirtless on city streets and getting their hair done in hideous cornrows-- and now, also clapping-hand waving protesters.

But all of that is really insignificant when compared to how incredible my time here has been. The wealth of things I've seen, the flavors I've tasted, and the range of experiences I've had makes all of those problems really meaningless. That point become obvious to me when I tried to assemble photos for the above collage-- which in no way could possibly reflect what I've seen and done here. From drifting down the Mekong in Laos, to testing my chili tolerance in Thailand, to finally getting to see the ruins of Angkor in Cambodia, to sampling unusual foods in Taiwan, to admiring Penang's streets in Malaysia, to drinking rich drip coffee in Vietnam... it's been unforgettable. I know that, no question, I'll be coming back soon.

Then again, check back with me how I'm feeling if I do get stranded here this evening.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Eating Malaysia with the help of Eating Asia.

Recently, my jet-setting friend Tim found himself in Taipei, where he encountered a number of the tasty and unusual treats that I wrote about during my time there. Coincidentally, I was also in a new city on the same day that he posted his entry, and I too was following the tips of another blogger in order to track down some delicious dishes. However, while I had for Tim only an odd collection of stumbled upon snackfoods to recommend, my informant-- Robyn, of Easting Asia-- offered me a fantastic list of well researched tips.

Her first tip led us to Jalan Transfer, where we found a sidewalk roti stand. We joined the other patrons, who were eating on communal tables under the shade of a slanted metal awning. Bordeaux and I were each served a toasty roti fried with egg, and a bowl of a rich tomato based chicken curry. Though I'm normally a coffee drinker, I ordered instead a glass of hot milky tea. It was served lightly frothed, and so hot that the glass had melted the ice cubes placed around it even before it got to the table.

We followed her next tip to dinner, to a Chinese Nyonya restaurant called Shing Kheang Aun. We were lucky to find a vacant table, because the place was packed-- crowds of families and groups of old friends all enjoying their dinner. I had come with a list of recommendations, and while my efforts at pronouncing our order amused the proprietor, it worked perfectly. We were treated to an outstanding dinner of kiam hoo masak Belanda (pork and salted fish with sweet red chilli), assam heh (crispy shrimp coated in a tangy tamarind sauce), and our favorite dish, gulai tumis (fish in a red curry soup).

All of these dishes were just a prelude to our next morning, where a tip from Robyn directed us to the Pulau Tikus market. There, we had a long palm-sugar sweetened breakfast as we sampled various treats and snacks. Our first stop was a 'pan cake' stand, where we got a slice of giant spongy pancake. It was filled with a layer of dark palm sugar, laced with crunchy broken peanuts.

Next we ordered some treats from a table serving Nyonya sweets. We ordered our soul savoury bite, a slice of white carrot cake. It had been a favorite dish of ours in Taiwan, but we especially liked how it was served here, topped with chili and garlic. Next, we ordered two sweet snacks-- a glutinous bar of brown rice, and a moist slice of a darkly flavoured cake.

Finally, we managed one last stop, to grab a coffee and check out one more recommendation: appom, Indian coconut milk pancakes. They were baked in clay pots over charcoal stoves, and had a nicely toasted flavour, tempered by a slight creaminess. It was the perfect morning of sampling new treats, even if I did get a little sweetened out-- though I did still have to stop by the first stand again before we left, for another slice of the giant palm-sugar pancake.

Thanks again to Robyn for the outstanding tips! If you're interested in food in Asia, you're probably already reading her blog-- but if not, be sure to check out Eating Asia.

Be sure to check out I am a Viking too, for his entries on unusual food discoveries in the British Isles, original cartoons, and essays on Japanese culinary culture.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hair Saloon.

There is one feature of the Penang style landscape that I wanted to single out in particular-- the hair saloons! (No, not a typo as I thought when I saw the first sign). Georgetown's streets are dotted with these little beauty parlors, most decorated in pastel hues and mid-century decor. Air-conditioning was often the chief advertising agent. I never saw anyone emerge freshly coiffed, unfortunately-- but I can only imagine these shops specialize in modish flips and hi-so bouffants.

And, as an aside, I just wanted to share that I am counting down the days-- only ten left in Asia! Obviously, lots of sadness, things I know I'll miss, food I'll crave the instant I step on the flight, etc etc-- but right now I'm really looking forward to the change of scenery. Additionally, it'll be great being back in the US after almost a year and a half absence!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tropical style in Penang.

Penang is a city with serious tropical style.

You can see it in the spectacular doorways...

...and the mix of colours and patterns in the tiles, which should clash, but don't.

And in its more distinctive features, like the bamboo curtains that work both as advertisements, and as protection from the equatorial sun.

And most of all, in the colors-- deep pinks, blues, and greens-- the hues so intense that they seem to sizzle in the midday heat.

Friday, November 07, 2008

I l Penang.

With our time in Southeast Asia drawing to a close in just over a month, Bordeaux and I had to make one quick visa run. We had been planning on just crossing the border for a night, but a good friend in Bangkok who recently visited Kuala Lumpur convinced us we should try to see more of Malaysia. I'm grateful she did, because so far Penang has been incredible-- rows of beautiful pastel shopfronts, offbeat mid-century style, and an incredible mix of cultures and religions. I can't remember the last time I felt so enamored of a city-- perhaps when I first saw Bangkok or Hanoi. To be honest, I'd been starting to feel a little 'travelled out' lately-- and Penang has totally reignited my drive.

Of course, the fact that food and coffee in Georgetown are fantastic helps-- we spent much of today eating, sampling (among other things) roti, chicken rice, and Indian sweets. More on all of that to come...