Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dining in Malaysia

KL's cosmopolitan veneer extends to its gastronomic delights. This photo only courtesy of wikitravel's guyfrombronx.

Malaysia Airline food - chicken noodles with tropical fruits and orange juice.

I have learned to become adventurous due to my travels. After all, constant compromise and risk-takings are essential for survival during long haul trips. But there is one thing that I never compromisefood! I am droll and boring when it comes to food. If there is a chance I would hate what I am about to order and experiment on, I back off and get the safest, most common food on the menu.

Contrary to popular belief – that my travels involve dieting –
I do get to eat more often than usual. The reason for this is simple: I will never find myself starved in the middle of a road trip where accessible food is nowhere to be found. Thus, much like diarrheic patients, I practice “small frequent feeding” – and lots of fluids! I eat and eat when I can – little amounts every so often. I usually deplete and burn them fast anyway. My travels are actually strenuous and burn a lot of energy.

Last December,
I unknowingly lost 10 pounds after a month of travels in Malaysia, Bangladesh and India. Last March, I lost 5 pounds after 1 month of travels all over Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand. Bangladesh and India were a tough place to live – in terms of eating! These processed “halal” food (food that are permissible to eat by Muslim law) were effective weight reducers. I didn’t favor the taste, the food consistency, the smell, even the color. And eating dhal every so often just didn’t agree with my appetite – most especially cause I hate spicy food – and chili and spice are the gastronomic soul of Indian dining!
Being a Muslim country, Malaysia isn’t so much different. They serve halal food, BUT there is more variety that suits the western tongue (I am Pinoy but my taste buds have been primed like an American tongue haha!). There is KFC and McDonalds.
Chicken tastes like chicken! In India, the taste of chicken perplexed me no end!
Was I alone with this observation?

Last March, while I was in north Myanmar – in the royal city of Mandalay, I met a
Polish guy named Adam! He was also in India the whole November last year. He kept dropping “fuckin shits” and “idiots” and other expletives while he was recounting his trips. And I would stop and tell him – “You should not say, fuck you, to them!” I was such a daddy! Haha!

Adam explored India from North to South. He loved
Cochin (which is south India) the best coz, according to him, “they were mostly Catholics”, and this heavily influenced the kind of food that the region consumed; i.e. “non-halal”. As a result, Adam lost 25 pounds from the whole Indian experience. He said he was constantly starving and craving for something edible. I was the same but there was somehow food that tentatively suited my taste buds! It wasn’t so bad – BUT I lost 10 pounds anyway!

On the other hand, Malaysia has a more varied range of selection. Pork is available for the non-muslims. Coffeeshops,
Mamak stalls, mall food courts, fine dining – they’re all available in Malaysia, especially in KL. In middle-of-the-road areas (as in Jalan Pudu), simple restaurants display a colorful mix of viands. And the colors are, to say the least, eye-popping – orange, yellows, red, maroons – these chili paste-rich food choices just seem to jump out of their trays. On food, I am a little scared of too much color.

So here is my Eye in the Sky of food to be had in Malaysia!

McDonald, in front of Central Market, KL - Big Breakfast at 9.75 Ringgit ($2.75/PhP132.60). Malaysia's Big Breakfast is actually twice more expensive than Manila's Big Breakfast! Thailand's Big Breakfast is even moreso at 130 baht or PhP183.60.

Fruits in season in Shah Alam, Malaysia - rambutan (those hairy round fruits) and coconut.

Shah Alam restaurant just beside the Museum. Look at all the choices... and I had to choose something so safe. (below)

Fried banana looking so delectable.

My very safe and very drab choice. It was past 1:30PM so this was supposed to be late lunch, but for some reason, I wasn't hungry at all. I just got off the train from KL. I forced myself to eat so my choice was rather uninspired: Fried chicken drumstick with rice (3R), 2 slices of banana (50 cents), iced Milo drink (1.50R). Total - 5Ringgit ($1.40 or PhP68).

KFC along Jalan Pudu in KL - 2 piece chicken with coleslaw, bread and mashed potato - 9.75Ringgit ($2.75 or PhP132.60).

KFC once again at the Central Market area - 3 piece chicken meal - 12Ringgit ($141 or PhP163.30).

Dinner at Berjaya Times Square, my favorite place to hangout and watch movies. This was before a movie, at a restaurant called SEKHOM, just beside the cinema entrance at the 5th floor. Pork meal at 10.90Ringgit plus coke - Total is 15.50Ringgit ($4.35 or PhP210.90). Oh, they were rushing to rid of the table so I was rushing too! And more importantly, food was CRAP! Looked good, but they were all tendons, cartilages and bones!

Sekhom Restaurant facing the entrance to cinema halls in BTS. I was deciding between Thailand's "The Coffin" and South Korea's "Guardpost (GP 506)" - another war horror film. I chose the latter (GP 506) coz I knew The Coffin had a better chance of getting shown in Manila than the South Korean film. True enough, not only was The Coffin shown last week, I also bought The Coffin's DVD last April while I was in Bangkok.

Traffic as I left Berjaya Times Square after the last full show. This was station IMBI.

Maulana Food Court beside Hotel Hibiscus City along Jalan Pudu, KL. This restaurant seems to be open 24 hours. Look at all the choices. They had a fixed price for a meal - but guess what I chose (below)...

The droll unadventurous me. Haha! Rice with boiled and fried egg, noodle (bihon) and coke in can - just 5.50Ringgit ($1.56). As I said earlier, I am not so fond of colored food and lotsa chili paste!

Maulana Food Court, Jalan Pudu, KL

Layan Diri self serve bus stopover on my way to Cameron Highlands from KL. This was a 20-minute stopover. I didn't eat coz I left KL just after a meal. So, I bought kakanin (snack)... (below)

Layan Diri

Sagun Bakar or Light Cream Cookies at 4.60R ($1.30 0r PhP62.65). They tasted like chalk! Pineapple Pie at 3R ($0.85 or PhP41). I've always loved the sweetsour taste of pineapple in food. A friend of mine finds it tacky, mixing pineapple in a recipe.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lost in Klang

Have you ever found yourself in a place you were never even consciously aware existed? At least not until you stepped on its grounds, getting off a bus. This adventure took me there.

I was in
Shah Alam. And so I took a minibus from beside Plaza Alam, after downing a bottle of coke. It was sweltering and I was thanking the heavens for Coca Cola (2.50 ringgit or $0.71 or PhP34.20). I hopped in a minibus aware that the driver nodded to my asking if this was headed to the Shah Alam train station. It was 3:30 PM. I sat somewhere in the middle of this rickety cramped little moving box – a public utility that’s a far cry from the usual comfortable AC buses that populate Malaysian cities. Knowing that my ride was just gonna take 20 minutes the most, I relaxed and enjoyed local color. Women fully decked in glimmery silks covering their hair and arms. It could get hot and sweaty under all those garbs, I thought, but they make for a polychromatic canvas. Very colorful.

But the minutes rolled on and on. 20 minutes passed by, but we were still going… where? The scenery outside started looking more rural, the streets a little less combed; the buildings a little craggy. If I had the whole afternoon and evening to spare, I wouldn’t mind. I always welcome such eventualities. They make for interesting discoveries.

But no! Not this time, please. I had to get back to KL, check out from my hotel, then take my night plane to Dhaka. The reality of a strange faraway city –
one of the poorest in world statistics – wasn’t lost on me. The thought made me nervous, but nevertheless excited. There are psychological mechanics involved in visiting strange new places like Dhaka. Bangladesh seemed so distant and exotic. I was still on the bus with these thoughts. Then 30 minutes passed, and the bus was moving into a highway. Oh dear!

I felt helpless. All I knew was that I’d have to sit this through and remedy the situation where the bus stops. I couldn’t just get off in the middle of nowhere –
highways can be deceivingly serene, impersonal. I was praying this ride wouldn’t have to be so far away. An hour later, we parked at the Klang Bus Terminal. It didn’t look like an “official terminal”. Buses just parked beside a row of small stores – like a market.

I got off the bus and started looking for clues as to where I am. This couldn’t still be Shah Alam. It wasn’t. Malay words paraded my vision until I read something a wee bit familiar – Klang! Oh yes, Klang is a city name – a destination, a final stop for a train ride, further away from KL.
I am in Klang! And am very lost!

The crowd outside was randomly scurrying along. There’s a small rotund – a roundabout standing beside a post office. There’s the Mydin Shopping Complex (Medan Selera Plaza) – a shopping arcade. But there was no train station in sight and I needed to be in THAT station soon. I asked around. They kept pointing south, so I headed there.

From a distance I saw a white mosque dominating the skyline – with a central golden dome and side towers topped by smaller domes of similar mold. To its side is a single minaret that looked like an inverted fountain pen. Ganda!

Two blocks and a busy intersection later, I was headed towards a bridge. The proverbial river runs through it – the Klang River. A river dividing the city into the north and the south part of Klang. The afternoon sun was still bearing down its heat at 4:30. This was a particularly long 15-minute walk. As I reached the other end of the bridge, I noticed a 3-tier winding stairs going down a street – 2 ½ stories below the bridge. I asked a passerby, “Train station?” The lady pointed down the stairs, under which was a commercial street of neatly lined shops. Jalan Stesen – or station road! MY train station road! ;->

Klang River

My feet took me through shops showing ready-to-wear items, fly swatters, floor mops, kitchen stuff. But there wasn’t a lot of business going on. So few people walking my way. Less than a hundred meters, I saw the signage. Wow! Finally! The Klang Train Station. I was overjoyed – like hitting a minor jackpot. Happiness is sometimes derived from little victories like finding a ride.

Jalan Stesen (Station Road) taken from the bridge

I headed to the station booth and got a ticket to KL – 3.60 ringgit ($1.02 or PhP49.10). My KL-to-Shah Alam fare was 2.50 ringgit and Klang was a stop away from the Shah Alam station. I saw a grocer and opted to end my long day-out with another can of coke at 1.60 ringgit ($0.45 or PhP21.70). I walked a hundred paces beside the platform and went up the flyover to cross the other side.

Klang Train Station along Jalan Stesen

I was right back on track! By 4:55PM, my Klang train left for KL, arriving after 14 stops at 5:40PM. I heaved a sigh of relief. Now I was ready for Dhaka. Or so I thought!

Just outside Klang train station.

Klang station platform

A service train at the Klang station.

Fast Facts on Klang:
Klang, also spelled Kelang, is the royal town of Selangor, on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia before Shah Alam. The town is named after the Klang River, which cuts the town in half, and sits at the western end of the Klang Valley.
Things to see in Klang:

- Kris or the Kris Monument- Raja Mahadi Fort
- Royal Palace – sultan of selangor’s palace- Crab Island – if you want a little sand and sea adventure, its 30 minutes away by boat
- Fishing at the smelly
Port Klang- Little India enclave along Jalan Tengku Kelana – Malaysia’s biggest Indian street- Shopping Centers – AEON Bukit Tinggi Shopping Center, Bukit Raja SC, Klang Parade, Shaw Centrepoint, Centro mall, Klang City Square, Carrefour, Tesco, Giant Supermarket
Eat bak kut teh (pork rib tea) - the Hokkien-style dish of pork ribs cooked in a strong, dark herbal stock, served with tea on the side. This is the city’s specialty culinary pride.

And this is the
Eye in the Sky!

Little India, Malaysia's biggest Indian street. This photo only courtesy of wikipedia's keanloong.

Klang is a coastal city in West Selangor. KL is to its northeast. This map only courtesy of www.dromuz.com.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Serenity at the Shah Alam Lake Park Gardens

One of the simple pleasures of travel is restfully enjoying a quiet corner, observing people. The park ground of the Blue Mosque is an idyllic place for such a low maintenance activity. The huge mosque stands beside a placid lake.

There are several areas you can enjoy your quiet moment – at a
park shed with a series of fountains at either side, under a canopy of a tree – and there are plenty of huge trees around, then by the lakeside.

I noticed a
blind child silently begging, his palms thrusted forward. He was almost immobile. He seemed oblivious to the people on their way to the mosque. For some reason, he looked smart in his striped shirt – one of those that stretch below the knees, like a tunic. I slowly walked past him, and then about a meter away, I turned back and gave him some ringgit – for food. Begging children have a soft spot in my heart, although I have learned never to give in Manila.

I went to the lakeside, and sat on the ground covered with grass, elevated roots and fallen leaves. The uneven sloping ground was uncomfortable so I shifted beside a shrub. Right across the lake, there is an eye-catching waiting shed topped with a
golden dome. To my left, I saw the miniature bridge, under which, water flowed through. In the mid-afternoon sun, there was the gentlest of Selangor winds blowing. And it felt serene.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

"Fall, Leaves Fall"

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

- a poem by Emily Jane Bronte

A cascade of still waters and fountains (below) line the resting sheds.

Front entrance of the Blue Mosque.

Rest your weary soul...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Shah Alam The City - At The Cusp of Discovery

The Blue Mosque taken from the front lawn of a deserted tourist information center.

Shah Alam is a young city. Established as Malaysia’s first planned city in 1963, it was granted state capital status in December of 1978 – replacing Kuala Lumpur as the state of Selangor’s capital when KL became part of the federal territory and the country’s capital. Lying in the Klang Valley west of KL, and some 2 hours away by train, this relatively new city is divided into 56 sections (counties).

There are hardly any write-ups about Shah Alam and the few that a tourist gets spotlights – almost exclusively - the
Blue Mosque. Having said this, I visited Shah Alam intent on discovering more than just the famed mosque. After all, my previous visits to other Malaysian cities have continuously surprised me. They were progressive and urban; they were clean and tourist friendly. More importantly, they were accessible. Shah Alam is no different.

Shah Alam’s commercial hub is mostly situated at the city center – sections 13, 14 and 9, and I found myself walking around, mentally taking down notes. There were hotels and commercial complexes, amazing architecture surrounding the city. From the Blue Mosque, I wandered on foot – from the Park Grounds and lake side, the museum, then ventured around the malls – SACC Mall, Anggerik Mall, Kompleks PKNS, Shah Alam Sentral Mall (these 4 stand within the same vicinity). Further ahead is the Independence Square and the Plaza Perangsang. 

Just across the Blue Mosque is the behemoth Shah Alam Stadium which can accommodate 80,000 people – the nation’s 2nd biggest sports stadium. Wet World Water Park is a bit out of the city center – you’ll pass it on your KTM Komuter bus ride from the train station to the city center. Education seems to be a major priority in this state. There are several primary and secondary schools around the city (19 high schools and 33 elementary schools) giving Shah Alam a vibrant youthful vibe. Taxis and buses are numerous, although there were hardly any pedestrians walking around as I was roaming the city. Where are the people, I kept asking myself.

Kompleks PKNS Mall

Museum Sultan Alam Shah - open daily except Mondays, 9:30-12:15PM then 2:45-5:30PM. Free admission.

Being a planned city, Shah Alam has the advantage of sprawling space and access. City streets have provisions for bus stops, street lamps, adequate pedestrian walks and passage ways, etc. From a first-time visitor’s vantage point, everything is well developed and the city rides on a bustling economy.

If I wasn’t rushing on getting back to KL to catch my night flight to Dhaka, I would have loved to explore Shah Alam further. I’d probably be back in Malaysia before the year ends, so if you are from Shah Alam and you’re willing to show me more of Shah Alam the way a local resident knows of it,
I’d welcome an invite. Haha. Would be interesting to roam this city with a friendly soul – for a change.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

Children's playground - but where are the children?

Anggerik Mall - a three-blocks walk from the back of the May Bank bus stop.

Partially occupied Anggerik Mall.

Ceiling of the Anggerik Mall - this is mostly peppered with textile shops. I could count the people inside.

The posh SACC Mall where I bought 6 dvds from Video Ezy.

Local residents queueing for bus cards.

SACC Mall dome ceiling.

A huge bouquet adorns the entrance of the SACC Mall.

Flowers on hanging pots decorate the streets.

Independence Square just across the Shah Alam Sentral Mall

Dataran Shah Alam

Shah Alam Theater just across the sprawling grounds of the Blue Mosque's park gardens and lake. Someone pointed out my earlier mislabeling (see comment below).

A coffee shop in Plaza Alam Mall - just across is a street where a mini-bus waits for passengers to a train station. Apparently the wrong station for those heading back to KL. This was the Klang train station, which is almost an hour away from Shah Alam. I asked the bus driver if this was headed towards the Shah Alam train station. Idiot that he was, he nodded. So I lost an hour - and I had a night flight to catch back in KL.

To get to Shah Alam from KL, check out this earlier blog post - http://eye-in-the-blue-sky.blogspot.com/2009/06/getting-to-shah-alam-blue-mosque-visit.html