Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Easter in Malaysia - Penang

     We strategically planned our trip so that we would end on a beach for a few days - and we're so glad that we did.  With all of the driving and touring throughout the week, we were looking forward to just settling down, unpacking our bags and not doing anything.  Penang is an area on the eastern coast of Malaysia, up near the border with Thailand.  We stayed near a port city called George Town on a beach called Batu Feringgi.
     The beach itself wasn't amazing, but our hotel's pool provided the relaxing backdrop that we needed.  Other than sitting by the pool we took a half-day tour of George Town to see the colonial town and we frequented a few "food courts" that were probably the highlight of Penang.

On our George Town tour we stopped at this Thai Buddhist temple which certainly reflected the distinct style that we'd encountered before.

Inside there were several money collection boxes, all promising blessings in exchange for donations.  This has been my impression with Buddhism and that is one major problem that I have with the doctrine - there is a general theme of you doing something in order to get something.

Loved this "wallpaper".

Directly across the street from the Thai Buddhist temple was the Burmese Buddhist temple that featured this huge standing buddha in contrast to the reclining buddha of the Thai temple.

Once again there was a theme of donations for blessings.  I liked this version though because they made it a sort of carnival game.  They had about ten different metal pots that spun around the fountain, each with a different blessing.  I drained a coin into the "happy marriage" pot from NBA range as shown, so that should keep us going for another year or so.

George Town also has some unique graffiti/street art scattered around.  We loved these murals....

Besides the murals they also had these iron framework sculptures that told a bit of the history of the town in a humorous, cartoon fashion.

We also visited one of these "clan houses" from one of the more famous clans of China.  Since there were many Chinese immigrants to Malaysia there is a clear influence on the culture.  Inside they had decorative murals and sculptures and a museum about the clan history in the lower floor.

We also stopped into a preserved house of an old wealthy family to show how life was in George Town for the upper class.

One last mural next to our food court experience at...

...the Red Garden!!  Don't worry, Marisa had the food guide so we knew what to get.

These fried noodles were a start, but not my favorite.

The way the food courts work is you pick a table anywhere you like and note the number.  Then you peruse the various vendors along the outside selling specialties of Malay, Chinese and Indian styles.  Place your order and tell them your table number then they bring the food right to your table and you pay there.  Separately there is usually a drink vendor that stops by to keep you full on cheap Asian lager.

Another unique dining experience is the "asam laksa", which is basically this vendor who gives you a plate or bowl of rice and dumps whatever you want on top of it.  They may have a dozen or more different dishes and you just keep telling him what to throw on top.

There is also a unique community in George Town that lives out on a jetty.  It's basically a village of Chinese families that live out over the water.  Everything was closed down by the time we made it there at night, but I think we also got a realistic view of what the day-to-day life is like here.

Colorful signs direct you to anything you need in the jetty village.

Our beachfront view of Batu Ferringi, which translates to "Foreigner Rock" or something like that.

     We had a great time on our week-long sojourn of Malaysia and it ended on a great note.  We had just enough relaxation in Penang to make it feel like a vacation before heading back to Hong Kong.  Our interest was certainly peaked and we're considering a future trip to the other part of Malaysia on the island of Borneo.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Easter in Malaysia- Cameron Highlands...a highlight!

After the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur, we head to the lush hills of the Cameron Highlands. As a person getting more and more into tea as she gets older I was very excited to visit this area of Malaysia. In addition to the tea plantations, we were also given a glimpse into the local peoples' daily lives and activities. Some tribal people still live up in the Cameron Highlands and use the land to survive.

Our first stop was a basket making shop

The workers make about 1 Ringgit (about $.30 USD) for each basket

Next stop along the beautiful drive were some hot springs. Here you can see a colony of black & turquoise butterflies.

We even saw a guy hard boil an egg in the hot spring water. I wasn't too sure how sanitary that was, but whatever works.

Some of the craft shops along the drive. These are used to cover food so flies don't get to it.

Along the road we stop at a local village. Our driver was kind enough to buy some candy for the local kids.

They were a little shy at first, but then ran and told their friends and everyone came running. They sold items from the land like honey, fruit, etc to make a small income.

Now this is where it got National Geographic. Here is a local tribesman and he was demonstrating how he still hunts today. He had small poison dipped arrows that he would use to hunt animals.

He has been doing this for years and it seemed so effortless. He hit the target dead center every time

Look at that form

You don't see this everyday. He was super sweet and really enjoyed showing us his skills and we enjoyed watching them.

It should be noted that Justin did hit the target. The arrow in the target's left hand was his shot. Way to go Justin!

Now onto the tea plantation

We visited the most famous and oldest of the Cameron Highland teas, BOH (Best of Highland)

We got the full tour of the factory, amazing views of the plantations and...

...a cup of tea. Good stuff! I even bought some for myself and my mom.

From there we went to a Scottish tea plantation owner's unfinished castle called Kellies Castle. It was actually quite a shame that no conservation had been done as it looked like a really nice place.

William Kellie Smith was the castle owner and because he was so loved and because he brought so much work into the area the local people honor him by putting a figurine of him on their temple.

Continuing on we visited a Buddhist temple in the side of a mountain built like a cave. I will let the pictures do the talking

The cave had some amazing well preserved (or restored) wall paintings. 

Now this one is for Justin, our driver pointed these out and I have to admit they were pretty cool. They are called shy plants. I hope you can see it from the picture, but the leaves are open and as soon as you touch them they close and will stay closed for a few minutes. So opened...

...closed. Cool, right?

The weather in the Cameron Highlands must have been 10 degrees cooler and a lot less humid. I honestly could have stayed a few days as there were some beautiful hiking trails. We stayed at a lovely hotel, Cameron Highland Resort, and would recommend it to anyone. I love recharging out of the main cities and seeing the natural beauty in a country. It was kind of sad seeing the development they are trying to add to the area and I do hope it doesn't take away from the beauty and wonder of the Cameron Highlands.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Homebrew Part 2: First Batch Release Party

     Approximately five weeks after conception of our first batch of home brew it was time for the first "release party".  Now this can be a tricky thing because on the one hand you want it to be a big event with lots of people having a great time; but on the other hand much of that fun is dependent on your FIRST batch of home brew to A) not get anyone sick, and B) taste good enough for people to want to drink it.  Much like the first three days of fermentation, there was plenty of pressure surrounding the event!

We had a decent turnout with about a dozen guests - some even brought "back-up", just in case the home brew wasn't up to par.  These gestures of "support" weren't necessary, however, as we went through at least 20 bottles x 750mL = 15 liters. 

The brew crew: Jonny, Vlada and myself.  We just try to follow the instructions, so you could say we're still brewing with training wheels.

Marisa:  "Oh wow, it actually tastes like beer - and it's drinkable!"  With a faithful supporter like that, the possibilities are endless.

The release party was also an excellent opportunity to partake in some Mong Kok street food.  This time I went with roasted pork (siu yook) and it was a hit.  We went through about 5 pounds of that stuff and it was delicious.  It's got a crispy skin that gives it a nice salty taste and it definitely wasn't dry.

The guests of honor.  Our first batch went in these 750 mL bottles and with the reusable flip top, we hope to store many a future batches of home brew in them.

     All in all it was a rewarding experience to make something that other people were able to enjoy.  I suppose you could say that about a batch of cookies too, but they don't take five weeks to make and people usually don't have get-togethers centered around them.  Now I'm not claiming that it was an amazing beer that people would pay money for, but it was the first step in what I hope will turn out to be a long-term hobby.  The process is definitely fun and there are a lot of recipes out there to try.  My brewing partner and I have been talking about our summer plans to gather ingredients in our respective home countries and figuring out a brewing line-up for the Fall.  You can do that when each batch takes a month to make.  At any rate, you can expect to see more posts in the future about new recipes that we try.

     We already have a Cooper's European Lager (w/extra hops) in bottles that must condition for another 10 weeks and we're bottling an IPA that will be ready by the end of May.  Stay tuned...


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