Culinary Penang

28 Jul

Just as many of the cities around the region, Penang cuisine offers plenty of choices for the discerning traveler. If you fancy Indian food, you get Indian food. Chinese food, they are all over the place. Malay food, just ask. The city of Georgetown–which people just refer to as Penang as a whole though the island comprises of a lot more areas, including beaches and hills–is dotted with many kopitiams (coffee shops), food courts, street food, restoran (restaurant, but sometimes their appearance is similar to kopitiam), catering to all kinds of taste buds. Not trying the street food / hawker food in Penang is like going to Bali and missing Ubud – you just have to do it. The following is a compilation of what and where to eat, though by no means is the list exhaustive. Most are things I have tried myself, but I have also included some I have heard a lot but did not have the chance to sample yet. This is not going to be the shortest list in the world, you can skip to the dish you like!

Best char koay teow:

Beret lady vigorously working the wok

Kafe Heng Huat on Lorong Selamat. The stall is owned by a lady who wears a red beret and purportedly a kind of goggles sometimes, though in all my visits I have not seen the goggles on her. Her char koay teow is fried to a perfect texture, just soft enough, with an infusion of wok hei plus a hint of chili. The secret to frying a good char koay teow is in the preparation, you have to separate the koay teow (rice noodle) into strips beforehand, not throwing them in lump and then break them in the wok itself. Hands down the best char koay teow in town so far. RM7.50 for the regular portion.

Honorable mentions:

Cantonment Road Famous Char Koay Teow, Stall 107, Gurney Drive open food court, next to Gurney Plaza, open for dinner daily. His char koay teow is slightly more orangey than the others, perhaps due to the use of egg (I did not ask about the egg).

Char Koay Teow, Restoran Bee Hooi at 415 Jalan Burma, before EON bank, daily 6pm – 10pm, closed alternate Tue. Ask for duck egg, which costs you RM5. Fried by an uncle, with his wife and son or daughter helping. It’s smooth, but on my last try it felt a little bland, though I was impressed the first time.

Kedai Kopi Sin Hwa at 329 Jalan Burma, opposite Balai Polis Pulau Tikus, 10am-5pm. The stall offers duck egg too. This one I have to admit is at a disadvantage as I had to ta pao (takeaway) and by the time I tried it, the char koay teow had already lumped together. RM4.

Kafe Heng Huat CKT

Bee Hooi CKT

Kafe Sin Hwa CKT

Yet to try:

Ah Leng Char Koay Teow at Kafe Khoon Hiang, Jalan Dato Keramat / Jalan Dunlop (facing Honolulu club), 8am – 2.30pm, closed Tue. This stall supposedly is the best in the island for those who’ve tried.  A plate costs RM9.50.

Sister’s Char Koay Toew at Lam Heng Kafe, 185 Jalan Macalister, opposite Loh Guan Lye Hospital, 8.30am-12.30pm, closed Mon. Their char koay teow is topped with shredded crab meat.

Chendol:

Perfect on a sunny day

Penang Road Famous Chendol stall. The location is actually at Lebuh Keng Kwee, next to Joo Hooi Kafe off Penang Road, a short walk from Komtar. There were two stalls there, both mentioned they are famous. Although the one on your right as you turned right from Jalan Penang is the one most patrons go to. I tried the left stall and it’s good enough for me. Brown sugar is key in making a delicious bowl of chendol (strips of green bean flour). Perfect accompaniment on a hot day!

Ais Kacang:

Refreshing

Ais kacang is a shaved ice dessert, with red beans, attap chee (palm seed), sweet corn, grass jelly and evaporated milk, less common ingredients are chendol, ice cream, aloe vera, agar agar and fruits.

I tried the ais kacang at Kafe Heng Huat, it’s sweet and glazed with Bandung-like syrup in pink color. It’s a pleasant bowl offering respite from the heat of Penang’s weather.

Yet to try:

Kedai Kopi Low Eng Hoo, Lorong Selamat. This famous ais kacang is actually a few shops away from the char koay teow stall.

ABC Ais Kacang at New World Park food court, Swatow Lane gets the most mention as the best ais kacang in Penang. They throw in different combination of fruits and ice cream in a bowl.

Kek Seng Ais Kacang, 382 – 384 Penang Road, 11am-4.30pm. Famous for their homemade durian ice cream, their ais kacang comes with the ice cream and a big agar agar on top.

Indian food:

Rice dishes with tea

Karai Kudi Restaurant, 20 Lebuh Pasar, Little India, 11am-11pm. Serves Southern Indian cuisine. I tried their vegetarian meals which come with an assortment of vegetable and soups. Pretty similar to most Indian food I’ve tried in Singapore. RM7. Unsweetened masala tea goes for RM3.

Yet to try:

Sri Ananda Bahwan, 55 Lebuh Penang. Went by this establishment and saw a buzz of activities inside. They displayed the dishes outside and it’s up to you to choose which dishes you’d like with your rice.

Madras New Woodlands Restaurant, 60 Lebuh Penang, 8.30am-10pm. Just opposite Sri Ananda Bahwan, I did not go in for a closed door always presents a psychological barrier (although Karai Kudi is also a closed door restaurant). They display their sweets stand outside.

Chinese Restaurant:

Teksen Restaurant, 18/20 Lebuh Carnavon, off Lebuh Campbell. This has got to be the best Chinese restaurant food I’ve tasted in Penang. Their specialties are bitter gourd with salted egg, spinach soup with 3 kinds of eggs, braised tofu. They also serve Michael Jackson drink, soy milk mixed with grass jelly (ask for tau cui cham leung fan). So good. So good. RM62 for 3 dishes, rice, and drinks.

Bitter gourd with salted egg

Braised Tofu

Spinach soup with eggs

Yet to try:

The Cape 海角红楼, 381 Jalan Burma, 11am-11pm. Located on the corner of Jalan Burma and Jalan Cantonment. Simple and wholesome dishes, with rice served in mini claypot.

Goh Huat Seng Teochew Steamboat, 59A Lebuh Kimberley, off Jalan Pintal Tali. Walked past the place as well, the tables are all full.

Sin Kheng Aun Hainanese Restaurant, 2 Lorong Chulia, 11am-2.30pm, 5pm-8pm, closed alternate Mon. Specialty includes Curry Gulai Tumis, Kerabu. Tai Buan Porridge, 173 Lebuh Muntri, 1.30p,-8pm, closed Sun.

Oh Chien:

Restaurant Bee Hooi, 415 Jalan Burma, opposite Belissa Row, next to EON Bank. This is hands down the best tasting oh chien (fried oyster omelette) I’ve had. It even surpasses the oh chien I tried in Taiwan (called er ah jian). In front of the stall, there’s a newspaper clipping mentioning the chef (jolly smiley guy) returned from Germany in 1995 to open the stall. Try it for yourself. RM6.

Yet to try:

Mr. Gan Crispy Fried Oysters, Lam Ah Coffee Shop, Lebuh Chulia opposite Beach Road fire station, 10.30am-4.30pm, closed Sun and PH.

Nasi Kandar:

Nasi Kandar Beratur, Restoran Liyaqat Ali at Masjid Kapiten Keling. Nasi Kandar is an Indian Muslim food, steamed rice served with a variety of curries and side dishes. I always love anything with spices and curry. I did not get to try this dish and it would be next on my list.

Nasi Lemak:

Ali Nasi Lemak, Sri Weld Food court at Beach Street. Favorite of locals, often eaten as breakfast or lunch. Rice is fragrant and you can choose your dish to go with the sambal gravy, fish, ikan bilis, eggs. Yum.

Variety of toppings

Nasi lemak with eggs

Now, my favorite meal, breakfast in Penang:

Dim sum:

Weekend breakfast

Tho Yuen Restaurant 桃園茶樓雞飯, 94 Campbell Street, off Lebuh Cintra, 6am-3pm, closed Tue. Known as Tao Yuan as well. Think breakfast, and dim sum comes to mind. The place is located on the first floor of a shophouse with seats stretching to the next houses. It’s clean and has a reputation as the better dim sum house around town. Reminiscent of most traditional dim sum places in Hong Kong, they still push their carts around for patrons to choose. You will find the usual har kow, siew mai, lor mai gai, chee cheong fun, po lo pao, char siew pao, egg tart here, but they also serve porridge in a claypot. Lunch is served here too. Spent RM18 for 2 persons.

Polo bun

Affordable too

Bali Hai Restaurant, 90 Pesiaran Gurney. Pick up what you want from their counters in front and get the servers to write your items on the list. Serves great porridge and chai tow koay (fried carrot cake).

Dim sum at Bali Hai

Yet to try:

De Tai Dong Dim Sum Restaurant 大東茶樓, 45 Lebuh Cintra, serves breakfast and dinner.

Aik Hoe Restaurant 益和茶樓,6 & 8 Lebuh Carnavon, 5am-2pm, closed Mon. Fun cheong kuen, yoke aun kuen, wu gok (taro dumpling) are served here. Good reputation, even rivals that of Tho Yuen’s.

Pulled Tea

Teh Tarik:

Drink stall at Gurney Plaza food court @ Basement 1. Smooth, creamy, tasty. Better than the one I’ve had in Singapore.

Apom:

Apom telur

Stall manned by an Indian seller at Kafe Sin Hup Aun, corner of Jalan Pasar and Solok Moulmein. This is the apom done in a style I’m familiar with, open-faced.

Apom is pancake in Malay, its batter is poured onto a copper place and cooked. The result is it’s crispy on its edge, fluffy in the middle and makes a great morning snack. RM0.60.

Yet to try:

Apom Chooi at Jalan Burma, beside SJKC Union. He adds banana with his apom, and folds them in half. RM0.30.

Preparing my order

Ban Chang Kueh / Man Jian Kueh 慢煎糕:

Stall at Pulau Tikus Market, Jalan Moulmein. I almost think having this food is committing a sin. Laden with saturated fat, ban chang kueh is a pancake filled with roasted peanuts, cream corn and sugar. It is delicious, sweet, crispy and a favorite of locals.

Roti bakar / Toasted bread:

Toh Soon Cafe

Toh Soon Cafe 多春茶座, narrow lane off junction of Campbell Street and Penang Road. This breakfast place is always packed with locals and tourists alike, trying their kopi and traditional toasts. Their bread is toasted on charcoal used to run water boiler above. They serve a variety of breads (toast with kaya and butter, toast with butter and sugar, chocolate toast, etc.), runny eggs, and of course, kopi. RM5.50 for 2 toasts and 2 cups.

Toast and coffee

Finally, everybody’s pick-me-up, kopi:

1st class coffee powder sold here

Every kopitiam serves kopi, coffee roasted with margarine and sugar, served with condensed milk. A variety is Ipoh White Coffee, brewed and served with condensed milk in cream-color form. Kopi is as delicious and tasty as any food. Sometimes locals patron a shop located far away from their houses just for their kopi, although another kopitiam is just a stone’s throw away. Some of the best I’ve had in Penang:

Restaurant Bee Hooi. This cup got me hooked on kopi ever since my visit in February. Still the best I’ve tasted so far, rich and aromatic, not too sweet.

Toh Soon Cafe. Their kopi is flavorful and smooth, not bitter or sour. They tend to serve it slightly sweeter, so ask for less sweet.

Kong Thai Lai 廣泰來, 6 Jalan Hutton, closed Sun. Less than 100m away from Toh Soon Cafe, the kopi here is where patrons from all walks of life (including a certain sugar mogul) go for their dose. It was featured on local newspaper when I was there. I had this 10 minutes after my first cup at Toh Soon, the kopi carries a bit of a sour note, or maybe it’s just me? RM2.90 for a cup and a toast.

Hai Onn Restaurant, 53 – 55 Penang Road. Serves Hainanese cuisine as well. We were eager for a cup of kopi on Sunday morning but Kong Thai Lai, Toh Soon were closed. A local pointed us to Hai Onn instead. Kopi is great, but didn’t hit me as amazing.

Rich and smooth

Famous kopi Kong Thai Lai, they serve toasts too

Tau Sar Peah 豆沙餅/ Tambun biscuits:

Ghee Hiang's tau sar peah

If I could bring Penang food back to Singapore, I would. But alas, the only thing I could bring back aside from a bag of tea is the famous tambun biscuits or tau sar peah, pastry with green bean paste filling fried with sugar and shallots. It is perfect as an afternoon tea time snack paired with tea as the biscuit tends to stick to your gum and teeth.

Ghee Hiang, 216 Macalister Road and 95 Beach Street. The oldest bakery shop selling tau sar pneah (I wonder the addition of ‘n’ in their peah). Famous for their tau sar pneah and sesame oil. They sell beh teh saw, almond biscuits, hong pneah, and mooncakes too. Tau sar pneah comes in two versions, bigger individual peah (purple box) and smaller one (orange box). RM5.50-RM16.50 for the sesame oil.

box of 32

Him Heang, 162A Jalan Burma. Their tambun biscuits is the one I’ve tried in the past and I remembered it is fragrant inside and crispy to the bite. Him Heang and Ghee Hiang are rivals, Ghee Hiang has a longer history but both their peahs are good. I prefer Him Heang’s because it’s the first one I tried.

Durian:

The king of fruit is hated by many and loved by many. Penang’s Balik Pulau grows this spiky fruit and now is almost the end of the season. You can get cheap ones at any pasar (market) for RM6-9 a pack. Get good ones (RM20-25) at the stall opposite UMNO building at Macalister Road. Creamy, slight bitter taste, and smooth. Heavenly.

Stall opposite UMNO

superb flesh and taste

Others:

Nyonya Kueh. Love this as breakfast snack. Plenty of layer cakes, glutinous rice cakes, sweet rolls etc. I can’t remember the names to all of them! Gurney Drive, and a local pasar (market) is where you can find them.

Kueh

Mee goreng

Mamak Mee Goreng. Fried yellow noodle with egg, Indian Muslim style. Kedai Kopi Sin Hup Aun on Solok Moulmein.

Pasembur / Rojak. Fried dough fritters, bean curds, boiled potatoes, prawn fritters, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, cuttlefish and cucumber mixed with a sweet thick, spicy peanut sauce. Gurney Drive food court.

Chee Cheong Fan. Rice noodle roll paired with chili and sweet black sauce. This dish can be found at most coffee shops near a market. Jalan Burma / Solok Moulmein stall near the market. Also found at Kuala Kangsar Market.

Preparing chee cheong fan

final product

Ak Th’ng (duck soup). Herbal soup with duck and bee hoon (rice vermicelli). Seemingly healthy but packs a lot of oil.

Koay Teow Th’ng. Rice noodle soup with chicken, fish balls, pork, garlic oil that makes it fragrant. Try the one at Bee Hooi Restaurant, Jalan Burma.

Curry Mee. Yellow noodle in spicy curry soup, with tofu, cuttlefish, prawn, cockles, and pig bloog (optional).

Hokkien Mee. Dish of egg noodles and rice noodles in a fragrant stock, which is made from both fresh shrimp, dried prawns, and pork or chicken, garnished with prawns, fish cake, leafy greens, pork ribs, squid, crisp deep-fried shallots, spring onions and fresh lime. The dish is served with sliced red chili, light soy sauce and sambal.

gelato and egg tart at Maxim's

Super big sized jackfruit from Ipoh

Won Ton Mee. Noodle served in hot broth and with slices of char siew and wonton dumplings, garnished with leafy vegetables. Kedai Kopi Swee Kong at Pulau Tikus, Jalan Burma.

Peranakan. The mixture of Malay and Chinese cuisines. The food is tangy, aromatic, spicy and herbal and packs a lot of punch. Hot Wok, 124E & F Jalan Burma, 11am-3pm, 6pm-11pm, closed Tue. Perut Rumah, 17 Jalan Kelawei, 11.30pm-3pm, 6pm-10pm.

Assam Laksa. Famous throughout the world, ranked No.7 in the tastiest food in the world article by CNNGo Lifestyle Guide recently. I did not try this dish this time, though I have in the past. It carries a sour taste from the assam (tamarind) used to flavor the soup. Fish is the main ingredient and added with finely sliced vegetables including cucumber, onions, red chillies, pineapple, lettuce, common mint. The stall at Air Itam Market is the most famous of the lot. Try Joo Hooi coffee shop on Jalan Penang too.

Some of the food courts to visit:

– Restaurant Bee Hooi, 415 Jalan Burma, opposite Belissa Row

– Kedai Kopi Swee Kong, Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus, opposite police station

– Gurney Drive open food court

– New World Park food court on Lorong Swatow

– Kedai Kopi Joo Hooi on Jalan Penang, before Lebuh Keng Kwee

– Sky Cafe on Lebuh Chulia

– Lorong Selamat kopi tiams

– Kafe Sin Hup Aun on Solok Moulmein, steps away from Swee Kong

– Cofee shops in front of Sunway Hotel, off Jalan Macalister. Plenty of stalls in different shop houses.

Pasar (market):

– Kuala Kangsar Market, Jalan Kuala Kangsar, off Jalan Penang

– Pulau Tikus market, off Jalan Burma, enter from Solok Moulmein

– Lebuh Kimberley Market, opposite Komtar and Prangin Mall

Almond milk, also called heng jin

If you have been to Penang, you would probably have tasted many of these dishes. If you have not, if there’s a chance, next time in Penang, do try all these fabulous dishes. Bite into the rich, tangy, sour, bitter, sweet, spicy, aromatic, flavorful Penang cuisine and the memory will last you a long time. Sorry for the quality of the pictures. Dig in!

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Penang, rediscovered

27 Jul

Beautiful house

I have the chance to visit Penang Island in Malaysia a few times this year. On my most recent visit this July, however, I went on to play the part of a full-fledged sua ku (sua ku is hokkien for people who haven’t seen the world much, similar to country bumpkin in English) tourist and boy, how I enjoyed it! You see, Penang is my first overseas trip back when I was around 17 or so (yes, I once envied those kids who get to fly by their second month in this world). So Penang always occupies a special place in my memoryland. I still remembered, on my first visit, everything was so different from where I come from, things looked better, the city of Georgetown looked cleaner, the malls were glitzier, the people were more fashionable. I was literally a sua ku back then. As I grew older, visited more places in Asia–although I could not claim to be well-traveled–Penang was pushed back as I thought there are so many other places I have not visited. I did went back many times after that first trip as a teenager, but the memories are hazy now: there was once I stayed in a heritage hotel with a friend, another visit on my way to Langkawi, and many other times I couldn’t recall the purpose of. I did not think that these times around it would be much different from the past.

I was wrong.

Road sign in Penang

I went back in February this year and got my first taste of what Penang really has to offer. It did not occur to me that Penang has the best street food in Asia, according to TIME magazine article in 2004. I have heard of the difference of their char koay teow from Singapore’s version (where it’s spelled as char kway teow – minor difference), albeit more often on how tastier it is. Another item is their Assam Laksa, recently ranked as the No. 7 tastiest food in the world, which earned some gripes from Singapore foodies. The other is the lok lok at Gurney Drive, a variety of food (fish balls, crab sticks, meat etc.) on skewers, cooked by dipping in hot water and paired with satay gravy. This is the only item that I could remember from my first few visits actually. That’s pretty much it. My knowledge is limited, and many food items in Malaysia are pretty similar to Singapore as they were, after all, used to be the same country. Penang, Melaka, Singapore, and some parts of Indonesia are where you can find the most concentration of Straits Chinese and Peranakan communities. Their presence influences the cuisine of the region and it developed into the present-day Straits Chinese cuisine through new inventions and tweaks on their traditional cuisine. You can find similar dishes anywhere in South East Asia I suppose, as the people in the region moved around with trades and influenced each other in the development of local cuisines. On this visit, I greatly appreciated their local kopi (coffee), roasted with butter and sugar, with added condensed milk. The kopi is rich, aromatic, and tantalizing to our taste buds. I couldn’t help but sing praises of it, as my travel companions would attest to as well. The experience provides the first spark of interest in getting to know more of Penang cuisine, which I discovered later, is the ground zero for foodies in Malaysia and some say Singapore.

In April, I went back again, and asked around for the best char koay teow. A local pointed us to a particular stall on Lorong Selamat, and as they say, the rest is history. I was back to this stall for 3 more times and it continued with my last visit. Aside from this stall, I’ve gone around tasting other char koay teows, curry mee, chendol, o chien, koay teow th’ng, assam laksa, ban chien kueh, nasi lemak, nyonya kueh, apom telur, mee goreng, dim sum, porridge & you tiao, teh tarik, and countless cups of kopi. And those are just only some of the dishes Penang have to offer. Penang food deserves a shrine of its own, and I decided to do just that in the coming entry.

Interior of the only Burmese temple in Malaysia

On a separate note, a slightly historical one, not many know that the Chinese communities in Medan, Indonesia share plenty of similarities with the Chinese communities in Penang. The de facto language of communication is Hokkien, a Chinese dialect, presumably because their forefathers mostly hailed from the province of Fujian, China. Singaporeans speak Hokkien too, but the Hokkien spoken in Penang and Medan are so similar that other overseas Chinese who understands the dialect wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. For two cities separated by Strait of Malacca and as far as I know, didn’t really have much trades/contacts with each other (I have only heard of the city in late 1990s where many Indonesians sent their kids overseas for fear of their safety due to the riot), how did Penang and Medan develop language and cuisine so similar to each other? One could say that the mix with Indonesian and Malay influences (they share the same history too), evidenced by the adoption of Indo/Malay words into the everyday vocabulary (eg. mana, ini, itu, macam), played a part. Ancestry, of course, is another possible reason, but why then, is Singapore Hokkien heavier than the two? I don’t know, but I’d love to find out if you can offer some perspectives. Hawker fare is another similarity, in Medan, you’d find similar coffee shops on the first floor of attached houses where hawkers set up different stalls to cater to different taste buds of their customers. Stalls plying Jalan Semarang, Selat Panjang in Medan, and Lebuh Kimberley, Jalan Penang in Penang are aplenty. Again, in Singapore we have hawker centers too. The wonder of Chinese diaspora in South East Asia!

Long story short (thanks for reading so far!), Penang is a place where you’d sure to find amazing food, different mix of cultures (Malay, Indian, Chinese, Arab, Thai, Myanmar, Japanese, English, etc.), extremely warm and sunny days (temperature can go up to 35°C daily, so please bring sunscreen and more change of clothes), many heritage sites (Georgetown city itself is a designated World Heritage Site) and buildings, beaches, temples, quiet spots, and of course, durian (it’s in season now). Enjoy!

hof, Shanghai

9 Sep

Chocolate mud cake with caramel and sea salt

You might miss out this small establishment off Sinan Lu, Shanghai at first glance. But enter into this popular dessert bar for middle working class Shanghainese and expats alike, you’ll find plush brown leather sofas, room lit by the afternoon light from the neighboring alley, and mouth-watering chocolate desserts that so many raved about. In particular, the orange chocolate mud cake with caramel and sea salt. According to some, this is the no. 1 chocolate cake you will find in Shanghai. The brownie is soft and sweet, when paired with the moist caramel and sea salt to balance off the sweetness, the combination produces a flavor that melts in the mouth and have you craving for the next bite! It is, simply said, very very good.

Their chocolate and caramel mousse cake is just as sinful, and we tried those two during our only visit. The cake features two layers of mousse, one of Belgian chocolate and the other, of caramel. If you’re a fan of mousse cakes, definitely try this piece and let us know what you think.

The restaurant serves food as well, but as we were there on afternoon tea, we didn’t get to taste the menu that includes vegetarian options. If you’re  planning to visit in the evening or weekends though, make sure you have a reservation at hand since the place is almost always full. Have a good hof!


Chocolate and mousse cake

HoF (House of Flour)
30 Sinan Lu,
思南路30号
Near Huaihai Zhong Lu
近淮海中路
Tel: 6093-2058, 6093-2052

From Fukuoka With Love

13 Feb

Hello all! It’s been a while since we updated. Actually, more than a year ago. Too many excuses to stall, too little excuse to start. Anyway, hope everyone is having a great new year so far!!! The Lunar New Year is just around the corner, so let me wish everyone a great Tiger year, wish you enjoy a great health, plenty of sunny days, awesome family time, and marvelous travels ahead!

I recently came back from a two-week trip to Japan. What a wonderful trip it was. Japan is a land of the beautiful, the cute – OMG! Cute, the wonderful, the strange, the ancient, the modern, the traditional, the orderly, and zen. Each place has its own charms, and most of them unforgettable. Some places bring laughter, some, tears. It’s pretty apparent from the minute I sit on the train to Tokyo city. The wooden buildings we pass by along the way are beautiful reminder that we are finally in Japan. What’s nice is it’s also highlighted by the fact that it’s winter and the weather was just wonderful.

With a day to spare during my stay in Hiroshima, I decided to go over to Fukuoka early in the morning via shinkansen. The JR pass makes travel in Japan amazingly easy, and you do save plenty. Hopping on and off the formidable shinkansen is like buying a cup of coffee. I surprised myself by going to another city an island away on a whim and be back by dinner time. The train trip lasts an hour and a half. You’d be there by 9.30 am if you leave Hiroshima by 8. Exiting the train station, the first stop I look for is the tourist information desk. The lady on the counter is very helpful, as most of the people are. With a map on hand, I’m set to go. First off, I have to take the 100 yen bus to city center. Stopping in front of a building with Starbucks on its first floor and not knowing where to go, I go in and get myself a cup of Japanese tea latte. It’s so fun traveling like this, armed with a map and just taking your own time to explore the city on foot. Back home, I’m pretty much clueless about the streets in the city I live, having to take public transportation most of the time. However, in another city, with the right map, I could tell you where to find the nicest ramen in town on foot. I like to think of myself as a good navigator, albeit a very flawed one at times. I set off on foot to a green building in the CBD area called ACROS Fukuoka, a modern “green” building that is home to the Fukuoka Symphony Orchestra. The building, built like a pyramid, has crisscrossing staircase on its exterior lined with various plants that fill its entire facade. It is quite a sight. Inside, the airy lobby leads the way to an exhibition on Japanese art. Outside the building, there is a small lovely park where a woman is practicing juggling, with a bicycle parked nearby, a group of citizens protesting over something I cannot make out of, they seem to be on their to a government office building. Seeing the scene makes me smile for no reason. I like parks.

So I’m on my way to TNC building, close to Fukuoka Tower and Hawks Town, home to Fukuoka’s Softbank Hawks baseball team. The main reason I’m here is to see Robosquare. Yes, I have not seen an Aibo before and is curious. The place is fairly empty, but on the displays are those very cool robots: Hello Kitty – wonder what this one does; Aibo – with its numerous versions; the types that conventionally fit what we think as robots – stoky head, arms, eyes and all that; and Pleo – the very cute dinosaur pet which I am tempted to adopt for myself. Pleo is still sleeping and Aibo is taken out to play, so I get him to dance a little, wag its tail a little, and be a nice dog it is. It responds very well to voice commands, the technology is clearly advanced. When Pleo comes out from its crib, I go over to play again. But it looks like it’s a little tired today, a few strokes on head and it freezes, apparently going back to sleep again. After Robosquare, the tower is my next stop. The tallest seaside tower in Japan, it looks over Momochi beach and offers a panoramic view of Fukuoka from the western subcenter. If you want to visit, I would recommend go during the day as the view is just refreshing, atypical of those tallest building ones.

Crossing over on foot to Yahoo! Dome and Hawks Town, I can not help but to stop and marvel at the sky. The blue is the bluest blue without a speck, and the kind I like most. It’s so wonderful to be walking around on a day like this. Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. At the Yahoo! Dome, people are queuing to buy tickets at gate number 5. At ¥800 I figure I’ll pass, for I don’t know if the is a game soon, and I’m clueless about baseball. Heading back to the city after lunch, I alight at Daimaru in Tenjin area. It feels different, I like Tenjin most compared to the other shopping strips in every city, and they are mostly the same brands anyway. Maybe I just decided I like the city very much. A round of pocket damaging shopping later, I’m on my way to Tenjin Chikagai, the super sleek underground shopping lane that leads to the main Hakata station. The black ceiling is outfitted with soft tone light and the floor carpeted. I have not seen an underground mall this chic before. Resisting temptations along the way, I finally reach Hiroshima in time for Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (pancake with yakisoba with egg, sweet sauce on top – nyam!). Miyajima! Here I come!

Signs You Have Observed When You Say “OMG, I Am A Wander Geek”

9 Jan

Wandergeeks,

However you think of yourself when it comes to travel desire, let’s thoroughly observe ourselves or the heavy-weight travelers around you and find out the characteristics that you think a typical Wander Geek is likely to show, would you?

We will start with a few. Here is it :


Signs You Have Observed When You Say “OMG, I Am A Wander Geek”

  1. The minute you embark on the journey home, you have started to miss the passed traveling days
  2. A destination is always part of a bigger journey, even if it is the last destination on your trip.
  3. A home is never really a home, it is just simply a place to stay between travels
  4. …..

The list goes on…so let’s hear from you! Please let us have your ideas written in the comment box, and we will add them up in the list if we deem appropriate. Many thanks!

Nature is what we need…

5 Jan
So, I’ve figured out. Somehow, somewhat, we need nature for some reasons. Living in a developed modern city definitely ain’t easy in that case. I am talking about fresh air, mountains, flowers, jungles and the like. Yes, that’s what I mean by “nature”.

So, this entry is about my recent trip to Surabaya, second largest in Indonesia, a capital of East Java province, through which I have been reconnected back to the nature. When I was a little girl, dad often brought us to mountainous town distanced less than 90 km away from our hometown, namely Berastagi as sort-of a short vacation, which we took for granted most of the time. Even so, that was probably the time when I was connected to the nature most often (at least once in 2-3 months). Now that I think of it, I kinda miss it. It’s been years since I last stepped there.

I was sent for work purpose to Surabaya about 2 months ago. This was my second visit to Java after Jakarta quite some time ago. If I were to name 2 things I loved about this trip, they were definitely the food and the nature. Almost every day I was served with Javanese food such as Soto Madura (Madura Island Soup), Rawon (Diced Beef cooked in Black Soup), Beefball Noodles, Empal (Crashed Fried Beef), Sayur Asam (Sour Vegetable Soup). Once in a while, I was brought to famous seafood restaurants to taste their chef’s specialties such as Salted Egg Crab, Sambal Prawns, Fish, etc. I love spicy foods and that was like a heaven to me. ;)

But what I loved the most was short trip to Mount Bromo, which legend I often heard about when I was in primary school. It was a pretty surprising trip to me, the temperature was definitely below 10 degree C, or perhaps below 5. Very cold, considering there’s no such cold places in Indonesia and considering how thin the jacket I wore. Very beautiful mountain and view around, I will let the pictures do the talking. We left Surabaya about 12 at night after having a couple of drinks at Shangri-La and reached Bromo at 3 am, right away went for hot drink and waited for the sunrise. Indeed the sun was pretty shy on that day, or we’re just unlucky. I had my very first experience riding a horse up and down the hill. I was so beat. So I decided to ride a horse instead of walking up half of the way to the peak, continued with climbing hundreds of staircases to reach the peak afterwards.
If you haven’t heard about Surabaya Mud Volcano/Sidoarjo Mud Flow, which continues to grow and predicted to continue releasing 7,000 to 150,000 cubic metres of mud every day for years. Here’s glimpse of pictures which I took when I was there. Some places have become tourist attractions. But imagine, underneath these white layers you see were residences’ houses and factories, completely buried.

The trip was like a total breathe of fresh air.

Ciao.

We don’t appreciate Ferris Wheels enough!

26 Dec

I never thought much about Ferris Wheels when I was a kid.  They are slow and, to be honest a bit boring.  I thought they are best suited for old folks who can’t deal with roller coasters, bumper cars and the like.  

As I turn into an “old folk” myself, Ferris Wheels doesn’t seem so “uncool” for me anymore.  The first Ferris Wheel I got on was in Wing Bay, Otaru, Hokkaido (Japan).  It was winter and there was a beautiful layer of pure white snow as far as the eyes could see.  The skies was a perfect glassy blue which lent a divine background to the happily multicolored Ferris Wheel we climbed on.  

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The structure wasn’t all that big and there weren’t much blocking the view all around.  It was chilly and it was quiet.  It was truly poetry in motion.  

Did you know that the Ferris Wheel was actually designed by a chap called George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.?According to Wikipedia, Ferris was a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and designed it as a landmark for the Chicago 1893 Columbian Exposition, to rival the Eiffel Tower built for the 1889 Paris Exposition.  

I didn’t get on another one for a few years after that, not until I went to Singapore.  Yes – it was the Singapore Flyer

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While the Otaru Ferris Wheel was quaint, the Singapore Flyer is huge.  Standing at 42 stories tall, it is currently the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world.  Riders board a tubular capsule structure which boasts an amazing all around view.  It was breathtaking.  I bet if I knew where to look, I can see Malaysia from there with no problems at all.  The wheel turned quite slowly, so we had plenty of time to take it all in.  It truly lives up to its name – the “Flyer”.  What they probably should provide, either as rentals or mounted to each capsule, binoculars or telescopes!

While I haven’t boarded my 3rd Ferris Wheel yet, my daughter did, at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park.  I guess she didn’t hold the same views towards Ferris Wheels as I did.

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She went up with her two cousins and her aunt.  The three little girls were singing all the way up.  Standing on the ground, I could feel what they see, I could appreciate how they feel – oh, the pleasure of it all!  I think Ferris Wheels are very under appreciated.  They usually stand quietly and turn slowly, majestically alone.  They are never as exciting as the roller coasters, bumper cars or other rides.  However they do offer us the simple pleasure of carrying us off the ground, even for a brief tranquil moment, away from our worries, away from the troubles in the world.  For a brief moment, we are on top of it all, looking at the world from above, feeling a little closer to the heavens.  

I love Ferris Wheels.

What about you?  What are some of your favorite Ferris Wheels?  Tell us about your experience!