Friday, July 25, 2014

The Cat Story...

This is so random.

So last night a fellow blogger Ms Marg shared on FB with the rest of us other bloggers in her circle, some common hindrances when it comes to writing - The 15 Stages You Go Through Everyday If You're a Writer. Aha! Totally understandable. I get that all the time.

But the thing that caught our attention was how cats featured in at least 2 of those points. Interesting. So after a series of funny 'cat' comments, and this being a total writer's block topic, I added "The first to post a cat story wins." Of course, me being pregnant and it was already 10.45pm at the time, I fell asleep right after... until morning.

The winner is of course Khairool! who in the spirit of a good blogging (if there's such a thing) wrote about a brilliant cat hut story. Haha. Pat yourself in the back mister! Who says you cannot write under pressure?

Now back to me...

My cat story? Oh nothing. Just that I caught my significant otter made a tender gesture towards a kitty when we were vacationing in Phuket last June. I mean, he may not like cats so much (what's with the neighbours' cats constantly harassing his shoes and leaving furs here n there outside our house, climbed the fences, scratched the car etc) but I am sure he doesn't hate them or want to harm them in any way. <3

 There see? I got proofs!

So that's it! Cat Challenge accepted! You all have a good Friday and a loooooong weekend ahead! I should be in KK by the time I post a next one. At least this settles the block thingy for now.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

So are you going to heaven or hell? ...

Pre-Note: Saturday break.

Heard once upon a time. A conversation in a car.
Three colleagues, all of different religion and faith, car-pooled to an eatery for a meal. One a Muslim, another a Christian, and one other a Buddhist. The subject of death, good deeds, heaven and hell came up. After some semantics and premise, in short:

The Muslim:  You know guys, in my religion, the two of you are all going to hell if you don't repent.
The Christian: Well, in mine, the two of you are doomed and going to hell too if you don't repent. 
The Buddhist: Haha we're no different. In mine, the two of you are bound for hell. The difference in mine is... what level of hell will you be in.
*All three laughed heartily*
All in agreement and good spirit: So that's right, no issue there then. The conclusion is - We're ALL going to hell!

Post-Note: Before you condemn another person's belief, look first at yourself.

We all should learn to chill sometimes. It is after all a hot day! Go grab yourself an Air Batu Campur.

ABC at Lorong 2, Siburan... cheapest and best

Happy Weekend everybody!

p/s: This is a true story. At the time, it was really hilarious. Recount to capture the spirit of unity, respect, and tolerance. Not meant to offend any religious belief or faith. If you're offended, no apology will be issued.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Kuih Tako!

... Meanwhile, hey let's take a brief break from the travel posts. After all it's the Fasting Month ma...

I don't fast, but I do support the local food market and so here I go doing my part to help generate the local economy. Besides, this is the best time to go food hunting because some of the best and hard-to-come-by local delicacies are out in the open!

My favorites during the Puasa Month? Kuih tako! These are tiny little drops of goodness made from rice flour, Hoen Kwe flour, coconut milk, sweet corn seed, sugar and salt... lovingly prepared onto tiny basket-like mould made from carefully folded pandan leaves (some used yam bean leaves/sengkuang). Apparently, I've been told that the Hoen Kwe flour is what makes this kuih special, it's made from some type of nuts (peanuts maybe?). You can google the recipe yourself. :D

Kuih tako from Matang Jaya Ramadhan Bazaar...

I live for moments like these... at home enjoying my takeaway takos with my loved one. Since I'm the only one at home crazy about them, hey more for me! And well, there's always everyone's classic favourite: miniature curry puff with sweet potato filling. 

For those observing the Fasting Month, here's wishing you 
Selamat Berpuasa and Selamat Sungkei!

Karipap, kuih tako, kuih onde-onde gula melaka, ABC...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Holiday Pt 2: Hanoi City, Vietnam ...

[Warning: Another picture-heavy post]

Anyway, hello there again!

I believe I forgot to mention a very important observation on my previous Saigon trip: Internet connection in Vietnam is super crazy fast! You know how they came far up ahead in the ranking than Malaysia? I've experienced it. Like, when you can download a 3GB movie for less than 15 minutes, you'd be as shockingly awed as I was. But then again, like China, they blocked Facebook, so pros and cons.

Hey, it's the end of June! How time flies. It feels like only yesterday we were in Saigon, and Hanoi, and Phuket... and here I am today trying once again, to cramp one partial adventure into a single post. My apologies if you get glaze-eyed mid-read, you're welcome to skip. :-)

ANYWAY... Still got cash will travel!

Counting our VNDs for the Hanoi adventure. Notice the tan... (not my arms)

So the second leg of the trip saw the four (and a half) of us taking the local airliner to Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. We initially planned to take the midnight train and cruising the coastline for like 48 hours to reach Hanoi, but the long journey and the off-chances that we might not be able to even enjoy the scenery, made us rethink the decision. Flying domestic via Vietnam Airlines was quite an eye-opener, it made us all felt really grateful that Malaysian Airports have one of the best check-in system and security features in the world. We came 2 hours early to check-in and already the queue was really long. There was a bit of a mix-up at first because the directories weren't clear, and we queued up at the wrong lane just to be told by the officer that we should've queued at the other lanes (the one with the really long and winding queues). Where do all these people go, I wondered? It was interesting how they would call those for last minute check-ins (like 30mins before departure time) to cut queues and immediately go to the counters. Like err... 30mins woo... They still allow that? Don't get me started on the straight-faced queue-jumpers.

On board the Vietnam Airlines at last...

One wait after another, and at last we were on board and can safely breathed in relief. Oh dearest God ... I should hope I don't have to do this again. The suspense kept me holding my pee. It was a smooth full ride to Hanoi aboard their 737, with no in-flight movies, and sandwiches + pepsi as refreshment. But hey, it was one heck of a priceless experience!

2 hours later and.... Hello Hanoi!
They got my title right this time :-) ...

Hanoi was greener and cleaner compared to HCMC. The traffic system is much better articulate too and less noisy, although they still keep to the 50kmph and below speed, for some reasons. The airport transfer that picked us from the airport probably drove slowly so we could enjoy the scenery along the way. You know, to help you feel more like a tourist every second.

We stayed at Somerset Grand Hanoi at the Hoan Kiem District, where it's purportedly strategically close to everything. The 2-bedroom apartment was superb, once again the hotel staffs' friendliness and hospitality was amazing. I think in general, the Vietnamese are most kind and hospitable in nature. It turned out to be quite a good choice as it even has a fully-equipped kitchen and washing machine/drier (with packed detergents, how considerate!). Hey laundry is most important, especially when you're in for a long-haul trip.

Our board throughout the Hanoi trip...

Most of the tourist attractions (although they weren't many around the city) were all within walking distance. We visited the Old Quarter with its 36 old streets and guilds. Well basically it was like walking through India Street through to Carpenter Street in Kuching, with its vast historical values and old structures cum shops selling all sorts of findings.

Passing through Hanoi Old Quarter...

On the way there, we passed by the St Joseph Cathedral. It has one of the oldest and loveliest structures I've ever seen on a church, dating back to 1886, and is still holding mass even unto this day.

 St Joseph Cathedral at nearby Hoan Keam district...

In fact, this is one of the many beautiful ancient churches we saw in Vietnam. Well you can Google more on these historical facts to know more, of course. :-)

Making petitions...

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is another good spot to visit. There is no entrance fee, and if you want to avoid long queues, visit on weekdays where they open during standard  09:00 to 12:00 to the public. Lines of visitors, including visiting foreign dignitaries, pay their respects at the mausoleum every day. Before we came here, research told us that this place is like a memorial park. But since you are not allowed to bring camera inside the mausoleum (you may leave those all at the counter outside), we had a vivid imagination of how it was going to be like. So we queued like the locals do and it was a loooooong line under the hot sun, with small covered walkway to hide from the sun. There were guards all along the line to make sure everybody stay in line, calm, and solemn. Well we didn't know why, we all thought we were going inside a museum. When we finally got in to the cool mausoleum, we were quietly ushered in and in turned out, we were actually paying respect to Ho Chi Minh, and it was like just 2 minutes inside or less, before we followed the line and were ushered out again. The line kept moving.

Notice the long line going in...

Too bad I couldn't take any pictures even though I had my phone in my hand. The embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is preserved in the cooled, central hall of the mausoleum, which is protected by a military honor guards. The body lies in a glass case with dim lights. After that revelation, it was really amazing how the old and young locals alike, could stand the hot sun and wait just to pay respect to their founding father. True patriotism, something we should learn from.

The outer part of the mausoleum is like a walk in the park. The lines from the  mausoleum slowly translated into queues to visit the garden, the park, the presidential palace ... You have to follow the line in order to exit the whole place. :-) I think it was brilliant, you don't have much of a choice but to learn something about history other words, domestic tourism done right. I noticed hundreds of the locals were having fun despite probably doing that every weekend or so.
 And the throng just kept on moving following the arrow to exit...

Which made me wondered out loud, what do all these people do on weekends actually? =)

The Hoan Kiem Lake (or Lake of the Restored Sword) is about 15 - 20 minutes walk from the hotel. It was a terribly hot day in Hanoi, but when we reached the lake, the cool breeze all around kind of balance it out. At the center of it all is Jade Island which housed a red temple and is connected via a red bridge aptly named The Huc Bridge. There's an entrance fee to visit the temple and to pass through the bridge, which we had to forgo, since I stay clear of temples if I can help it.

A couple by the lake...

It took us nearly 45 minutes to walk around the big lake, leisurely of course. By the time we reached full circle, mama was exhausted. :-) The lake is also a favorite pre-wedding photo shoot spot. There were at least 3 lovely couples doing their round that day. Brought back memories of my Photo shoot moments... sigh.

Notice the similarities in their outfits? I think they look really lovely...

There's not much to do in Hanoi at night since they're not so big on western-type entertainment. Even some of the better-reviewed bars/pubs were located in the more plush areas or at hotels, and the ones around town were available but we weren't really keen. So the next thing to do is (which is a must if you're in Vietnam) is to get yourself a ticket to their Water Puppet Show!   

Part of the story which I didn't even understand...

You can't find this unique Vietnam traditional art anywhere else other than where they originate from. And it's also for the experience lah. The show lasts for an hour at most, and the opening narration is done in English. After that, is Vietnamese all the way. Tickets cost between 60.000 - 100.000VND (equals to RM12 - RM20) depending on where you prefer to sit, and can be purchased at the entrance a few hours before the show. There were some live singing and traditional music accompanying the water puppet show (yes it's real water, waist-deep i.e, one where the artists handling the puppets do get wet). I didn't understand all of the story line other than making my own assumptions based on the water play, but what captured me the most were the ladies and men by the side stage playing all sorts of traditional musical instruments I've never seen in my life! They were as amazing as the instruments they held. True veterans.

Live singing and music making...

Oh one amazing fact. I just found out that Vietnam is the world's second coffee producer, right after Brazil. So that makes this lovely locals a Coffee Drinking Society in my book. No wonder I see a lot of coffee place, coffee restaurant, coffee this, coffee that all over in HCMC and Hanoi. Its most famous coffee joint is Trung Nguyen Coffee, which you can find in most districts. And most successful coffee company too, beating Starbucks easily in the country.

Trung Nguyen Coffee: Chocolate Ice Blended (left) and Macchiato Ice Blended 

But since I was, and still am, on a selective coffee abstinence period, I couldn't really enjoy the coffee here. By 'selective coffee abstinence', I mean I do get a caffeine shot every once in a blue moon to kill the craving off... and just my luck... on the day I decided to give it a go at Trung Nguyen Coffee restaurant in Hanoi, I had a bad stomach upset. Huaaaaaaaa. It wasn't the baby reacting to the coffee, I presumed too correctly, it was, my friend said, probably the ice they put inside my Iced Blended Chocolate Coffee. Tips: See? I told you to be careful with what you drink. Nothing like a tummy cramp and diarrhea to spoil a holiday trip huh. It was horrible, heaps of plain water and fruits helped clear the system, although it lasted nearly a day. And it turned out... I wasn't the only one affected! I think 3/4 of us got that too. Hahaha.
Food in Hanoi is basically the same as in HCMC. I tried to experiment as much as I can on the local fares especially their many types of phos and spring rolls.

   Beef Pho ... this one was simple but superb!

We ate this at one of the small cafe but very well-reviewed ( by TripAdvisor, ie) being that the owner, Mdm Minh Thuy, was a former contestant at Master Chef Vietnam. The Minh Thuy Family Restaurant is a small eatery situated somewhere at an alley, nearby the Old Quarters, and it was decently packed with tourists when we got there. I was still suffering from that tummy upset that I didn't even eat what I ordered because the smell got into me. Sigh...

Vegetable spring rolls with mushroom sauce which I didnt eat it at all.

Although my Vietnamese friend did warn me to be careful because dog and cat meat is a delicacy in this part of Vietnam. But of course I assume they will tell you what it is since it is a delicacy, unless of course they intend to substitute the meat for something else without your knowledge, which I assume they won't. Tips: If it looks like a chicken wing, it's safe. :-) Not much of a tip lah this one. :p 
'Com Tam' (broken rice with grilled pork chop and shredded pork skin...

On another note, renting an apartment proved to be really useful after all and a good option from the Vietnamese food. Our own Chef Don cooked up a storm in the tiny kitchen to prepare us some yummy instant noodles with extra ingredients and watermelon for dessert, bought from the Supermarket at the hotel's adjoining Mall.

Home cook lunch...

On another sour-tooth craving day, yours truly only helped prepare desserts... Fresh Ambra (Kedondong) sprinkled with lots of store-bought chilli salt. How convenient. Missing this hotel already.
Kedondong. Feels just like home...

All in all, I believe that was a wonderful NAM tour. Going to another country to mix with the locals and experience their culture first hand made me grateful of my own homeland. Vietnam is a beautiful country with (if I haven't said it enough already) hospitable community, but if you ask me to move there, I'd rather not. Because it isn't home. :-)

So that's it then! That wraps up the overall Vietnam trip. One country off the checklist! :-) Adios Hanoi!

Hanoi... the spectacular view from our hotel at Level 23...

Meanwhile, we are not done yet, this shall be continued. FINAL NEXT UP... Holiday Pt 3: Phuket!!

Have an awesome July people!