Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pots and pans and other things grand

This is a post about me and the kitchen.

I suppose in general, guys and kitchens don't usually pair up very well; the traditional view would be that the kitchen is the abode of the fairer sex. But, if you don't already know I love eating. And I must say I do sometimes spend a bit of time in the kitchen. Apart from the dish washing, which is my usual duty, I do a bit of cooking when my 'expertise' is needed. I also know what to look for in cooking utensils to get your food cooked properly (here is a great source of information for all things kitchen and dining). But, just in case you didn't know, here's a quick tip: a pot or pan that is pure stainless is basically rubbish for good cooking since heat will not be distributed evenly. What you need is one which has a layer of some other metal like aluminium or copper at the bottom of the base for good heat distribution. On this website are other considerations you may want to think about before your next pot or pan purchase.

But, I must say I'm not very good at baking. I think I've only ever baked...err, attempted to bake once. This was during my college days and in my student residence we had those cookers that came with an oven. I saw a recipe for profiteroles (sort of like a puff) in a supermarket magazine one day and I thought, hey, that seems simple enough. But, instead of getting a soft puff, what came out of the oven looked more like a cookie- flat and hard. That was the end of the wannabe baker.

But, at least my wife's into baking a bit. Ever since we bought an oven (which was quite a decision since there were so many different kinds! I wish we saw this advice for ovens earlier - it would have made our decision-making so much easier) my wife has ventured into baking and successfully come out with more than edible cakes. She has yet to emulate my cookie success though!

But, if I had to make one purchase for the kitchen it'd have to be a blender. I have one but it's now used more for making fruit juices, one thing it can but doesn't do very well. So, if I were to get one I'm wondering if I should get a dedicated fruit juicer or should I go for a hybrid which blends and also juices (sort of like a better version of my current one)?

I guess more reading is in order.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Withdrawal symptoms?

Last week, we celebrated Eid ul Fitr (apparently that's how it's spelled in English). For many, it was a very welcome long weekend. For the privilege few (i.e. teachers like me), it was an even longer holiday - a full 10-blissful days of not having to go to school. Yet, a big celebration such as this (the other one being Chinese New Year) does have its drawbacks.

Among the citizens of Kota Kinabalu, we are proud of the tea-time culture that we have here. Go to coffee shops between the times of 3 and 5 p.m. and you'd have a hard time finding a place to sit. The popular coffee shops would be crowded with people - all having one common purpose: sitting down munch the many mouth-watering tea-time snacks on offer and chasing them down with their favourite cup of coffee or tea. One of the most popular would be Fook Yuen, which serves the best toast bar none, and one of the best places to go to for hot drinks - the coffee's strong, the tea with milk's just nicely smooth, and the Milo's just thick - the way I like it!

But, the thing is, when it comes to Chinese New Year, or the Hari Raya celebrations like last week, this shop closes. That's the drawback. Favourite eating haunts close during such occasions and for Fook Yuen, it closed for a week (even longer for Chinese New Year!). So, what happens to all those tea-time happy hours? What becomes of the people who need their fix of the bread and drinks?

I suppose we'll have to make source for other means of getting it especially during those 'those trying' times.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


My wife showed me a couple of interesting short films just now and I must say I was quite impressed. Both had a rather strong message they wanted to send across, and the best thing was, both all had to do with Malaysia. If you didn't know already, there's a website showcasing 15 short films made by 15 Malaysian film makers and it's called 15Malaysia.

I haven't watched all the films yet, but the ones that I've seen (five, so far) deal with a broad range of topics, from public apathy, politics, to social issues and even religion(!), all told in our very own Malaysian context, so you'll find more than a smattering of Malaysian-ness in all these films.

That's not all. You'll also see quite a number of very familiar faces in some of the films. See if you can recognise the many Malaysian celebrities, all lending their talents and voices for these sometimes humourous yet very insightful commentaries on life in Malaysia.

Who knows? This nifty film-making project might even help the way we Malaysians see our true selves.

Go watch them already.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Grandaddy of all ships: The MV Doulos

Just a word of warning: this post is photo heavy, but if you'd just wait a bit, I'm sure it's worth it. :)

Today was a rather special day. My family and a few other friends had the opportunity to visit the MV Doulos. Now, I know that to some of you this is nothing out of the ordinary, but I'm sure you'd change your mind if I said that all of us managed to get a tour INSIDE the ship. How many of you have done that?

The MV Doulos is here

GBA - Good Books for All

Okay, okay. I'll stop bragging. But, the few times I've been onboard the Doulos, my experience of the ship was merely restricted to the bookshop and nothing else. So, I was pretty excited when I was presented with the opportunity to actually go inside the ship and see for myself the different parts of this sea-going vessel.

My passport in

Did you know that the MV Doulos is the oldest ship still in operation? It was built just two years after the more infamous, more illustrious Titanic (which has long before sunk to its watery grave) in 1914. It went through several incarnations in its long history of service: firstly a cargo ship (Medina), then as a ship in the service of the US Coast Guard, after that a passenger ship (SS Roma), then a luxurious cruise ship (MV Franca C.), and finally, just when it was to be decomissioned and sent to the scrap heap, it was purchased and made into a floating bookfair (MV Doulos, Greek for 'servant').

Hong Youn Sook, an 8-year crew member, giving us the history of the ship

It's for real: This ship is really old! 95 years now!

So, our tour round the ship started with the brief history of the ship in the main lounge, and then we moved along to the VIP room which housed the original key of the SS Medina (when it was till a cargo vessel) as part of the glass table in the centre of the room.

The VIP room - notice the ship's wheel? That's the original from when it was first built!

As we moved from place to place, we noticed on the walls in various parts of the ship some colourful pieces of paper pasted on them, usually proclaiming someone's birthday or just saying what a wonderful friend so and so is. All this lends a cheerful atmosphere to the place.

Colourful notes adorn the walls in several sections of the ship

The next stop was the laundry room, where articles of clothing and others are separated before washing. Just look at those commercial-sized washing machines! The laundry for almost 200 people on board is done in this room.

Commercial-sized washing machines!

You gotta keep 'em separated!

Along the way to another part of the ship, we were introduced to Delilah. Delilah holds a very special position among the crew of the ship. She's the one who makes sure that the safety crew are up-to-speed in their rescuing skills. You see, Delilah is the resident training dummy. All new hands with the safety crew will undergo training with her; she's thrown overboard, and it is their job to 'save' her.

Help wanted: Hero

Delilah seems happy about her role on the ship. Just look at her!

On the way to the bakery, we passed the clinic and this very intersting door. I couldn't help taking a picture of it as it was just so colourful.

International door

The bakery is where all the food is prepared and where crew members go to get ingredients if they wanted to do a little cooking of their own. We were told that all the fruits and vegetables to be used would be sourced locally from whatever city the ship was docked at, but meat was supplied directly from Germany. I don't recall now how they actually transferred the meat to the ship. Sorry!

Need for food

Spick and span kitchen: the place where tummy meets yummy!

Then, we had the opportunity to look inside one of the cabins. Compared to the room I sleep in, this one was like a sliver! The usual arrangement is that you'd be given a room with two bunk beds. So that's four to a room, and each room mate would be from a different country to encourage intermingling and to get to know each other's cultures better.

Next stop was to the heart of the ship - the engine room. It was a dark, noisy and humid place. Manna, the person on duty, showed and explained to us the various places in the engine room and the work that the people stationed here had to do (maintain, troubleshoot and fix - basically, to ensure that the ship keeps running). Apparently, if the ship developed an engine fault while at sea and needed a part to fix it, the engine crew would have to fabricate it then and there. So, these people not only have to keep the engine running, they also have to be blacksmiths!

It's a very noisy place!

Personalised ear-guards

The life of the ship

The workshop cum R & R place

Giant cylinders - all 16 of them

Controls for gohead-gostan

A spot of colour in the otherwise drab-looking surroundings

And then he showed us the CO2 alarm. Manna said that if you heard this alarm, then you'll only have 20 seconds to escape from the engine room before carbon dioxide is released into the room to put out any fires inside. Failing which, he said, then it's off to see your Maker, which is a good thing. How comforting...

The death knell? No, but you'd better escape in a hurry when this sounds!

Our final stop was the dining hall for a rest and a drink. This hall used to be the banquet hall when Doulos was a luxury cruise, the MV Franca C., while the place where the bookshop is, used to be where a swimming pool was. We even spotted the original but tattered menu from the cruise ship - the date reading October 4 1958. Cool, huh?

The original menu from the MV Franca C.

Having rested a bit, we proceeded outside and browsed the bookshop before heading home. It was a very rewarding and informative tour. It almost makes me want to go onboard and serve...


The expansive dining area

p.s. The next port of call for the MV Doulos is Pasir Gudang, Johor before heading for some repairs at the dry dock in Singapore.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Swatting flies

We Malaysians love food, don't we? I think eating can easily be considered one of our most favourite unofficial pastime. But, having said that, we don't just gobble up everything that is laid before us. We choose, we pick, we select what is good and what is not. How else do you explain the fact that one restaurant can be bursting to its seams with customers when just a few doors away, the staff just spend their hours looking at the floor?

There has got to be something about that popular restaurant. I think it's all a matter of three very simple qualities:

1. Good food
The main reason you go to a restaurant or an eatery is to eat. You spend time, energy and money to get to a particular food joint and the least you expect is to get some good food in return. I mean, why bother going out for a meal if all you're going to receive on your plate is some crummy food which you could have cooked yourself is worst than your cooking?

2. Good service
The food served at a particular place can be the best in Malaysia (and some even say, Singapore), but if the service is horrible, then in my book, I'd rather spend my money elsewhere. How are you every going to enjoy the food if you're constantly getting frustrated by the inept staff that is supposed to attend to you?

3. Good value
You pay a certain premium for the food before you and you expect to be rewarded with a taste that is in proportion to or beyond what you have paid (although it is possible to get extremely delicious food at very affordable prices if you know where to go). Anything less, and the probability of you ever stepping into that restaurant decreases exponentially very quickly.

There you have it - three simple attributes for keeping your food business thriving. But, I'm sure you've patronised a number of eateries that don't quite achieve that mark. I know I have and there's one place in particular that I've visited not too long ago.

It's hard to say no to a delicious plate of chicken rice. And I'm always on a lookout for restaurants that offer great-tasting chicken rice with a decent price to boot. However, Jesselton Chicken Rice wasn't one of them. I've only ever visited that restaurant once, and that was more than enough. I had ordered a set which meant a plate of chicken rice with a drink, all for Rm8++.

The verdict: the chicken that arrived was cold, and not especially tasty. The drink, which was supposed to be some fruit juice, turned out just to be a poor syrup substitute. My wife's wasn't any better as well. If we had gone to a respectable chicken rice shop, we'd have gone out satisfied with spare change. We vowed that that would be the first and last time we ate there. And I thought, it'd be only a matter of time before this joint closes down.

When the whole family visited City Mall (where the restaurant was) yesterday for dinner, lo and behold, the prophecy has come true. The restaurant was dark, and on it's swinging doors was stuck a piece of paper which read "CLOSE" in red ink. Permanently,

I know I sound bad, but when it comes to food, I guess that's just the way it is. If your food tastes terrible, then people won't come. And when people don't come,'s just ta-woo-ying time (pardon my Cantonese. It's as bad as my Greek!) and an inevitable end.

p.s. Just in case you're wondering why the title to this post is "Swatting flies" - well, that's what ta-woo-ying means, and if my wife has taught me correctly, it refers to a situation where there isn't any work to be done. Hence, all you do is swat flies. :)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Roller coaster weather

The English always seem to find the weather a good topic to start a conversation on, so let's be English for a moment.

The weather here has been quite topsy turvy (is that spelled with or without a hyphen?). Last week, it was thunder, lightning, strong winds and lots of rain. So strong were the winds that the trees in front of my house fell over and obstructed part of the road. Twice! The trees had rather thin trunks and were not all that strong to begin with, but to have trees toppled over by the winds on two separate occasions within a space of three days is something. Fortunately, I have a rather civic-minded neighbour two three doors away who voluntarily hacked up the trees and cleared up the roads. Thanks neighbour!

And it was so wet that at least one main road at a hillside just outside the city collapsed due to a landslip. There's another similar road which I use occasionally to get back from work if traffic is a bit heavy, and these past few days, I have been seeing men doing some kind of project along that road. My guess is they're trying to prevent a similar fate happening to the road.

But, that wild wet weather has gone, and in the space of a few days, has been replaced by heat and dryness. And the haze is back though the air quality hasn't quite deteriorated yet.

I'm just waiting if the weather will come full circle and we'll be greeted by more thunderstorms and wet. Then, many people will have a whale of a time falling sick...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Adding fuel to the fire

I have been sick the whole of the past week - the most major being the cough (I'm quite sure it's not due to H1N1). This has got to be the worst cough I can remember. The typical day would start off with hardly any signs of my cough. Yes, I'd cough here and there throughout, but if you didn't know, you'd think it's just the usual cough that sometimes normal, healthy people get as well.

But, come evening that tickle in my throat would start every now and then and it gets increasingly more frequent, and as a result I'll cough more often. When bedtime comes, I'd be coughing every 5 seconds or so and try as I might to sleep, even after having taken medication that's supposed to induce me to sleep, I couldn't.

I'd cough, and I'd cough, and cough, and cough...until the wee hours of the morning. I'd eventually get maybe an hour or two's worth of sleep. So, you can imagine how tired I'd be when I do get up. Fortunately (or is it unfortunately for me...), my wife was able to sleep through all the ruckus without any hint of disturbance! How comforting...

So, last night I decided to go against all reason. I drank cold water, I ate a lot of spicy murukku, ate some chocolate - all food which would usually be considered pantang (forbidden) for people with cough.

And what do you know - I slept like a baby last night.

Go figure.