Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas 2011 Road Trip - North

After one day in PJ, KS and I took the ETS to Ipoh to meet up with his family and grandma there. It was the first time we are taking this new train to Ipoh and found it clean, convenient and hassle-free.

Exterior of the ETS 

Ipoh Train Station

Maple & Dawn at the Ipoh home

We spent two nights there lazing around before my parents, Ron and Jan came to pick us up on the way to Alor Setar. Yup, we all fit into the Avanza with Jan and I sitting at the last row. Passing all the padi fields made me realize how much I’ve taken the endless green fields for granted, considering many people I know who are amazed at them. Hey, I grew up with miles of padi fields right in front of my home for years, watching them turn from green to gold to being ploughed to the planting seasons.

It's been almost five years since I last visited Alor Setar. We stayed in this new motel called Mango Hotel. It was still being furbished but had the adequate furniture for us to stay. It was there when I realized how important it is to have thick carpets as the merest whisper could bounce and echo along the entire corridor and into our rooms. And also learnt the lesson why one should never choose a hotel which has a bar/club/live karaoke downstairs. Christmas season meant the nights went longer than usual so it was still rather lively past 2am.

So jealous! I took this with Ron's new camera (IXUS 220HS) handheld. So clear! Lights at Mango Hotel
Char Kuey Tiow at the Cowboy market: Our breakfast every morning

Visiting our favourite childhood haunts, we spent the days looking for good food and to also explore parts of Alor Setar we never visited. This time, we visited the Alor Setar Tower (which was built while I was schooling right beside it but I never visited), the Padi Museum which was located in some obscure part off the town and Lye Huat Garden, somewhere near Jitra.

The Alor Setar Tower was good because we could see all parts of Alor Setar, it being a small town after all. Entry is RM6 per person. Thankfully it wasn’t crowded so we could spend some time trying to capture night scenes such as these:

The Alor Setar Tower at night
View of the landmarks in Alor Setar
My old school in darkness

The next day, we went to the Padi Museum. Entry is RM3 per person but if you want to use your camera, you had to pay additional RM2 per camera. It didn’t have much but they had this amazing painting upstairs where you sit on chairs secured on a rotating platform so that you get to view 360 degrees of the entire painting. It had bits of the landscape protruding so it blends into the picture so realistically that my dad couldn’t even tell which portion was the painting and which was the 3D part of it.

Interesting roof tiles depicting the padi grains
Berposing at the entrance
Part of the 360 degrees painting
Another part of the painting
Found some strange pink eggs in the pond outside

We also had a bit of fun with the cut outs.

We then headed for a sumptuous lunch at the Curry Fish Head and Pintu Sepuluh. Very good food (loved the chicken curry and rendang beef).

Using old railway sleepers as part of the garden deco seems to be an in thing in Alor Setar. Saw them at two places.

After lunch, a few of us headed to the Lye Huat Gardens which is near Jitra, about a 20 min drive north of Alor Setar. It apparently had a mini zoo apart from some stone display so we were looking forward to seeing some animals.

Alas, upon arrival, we were told the zoo has been closed down but they had fishes and some crocodiles. Since we travelled all the way there, we decided to still go in anyway and paid RM5 per person with no concession for retirees, to my Dad’s disgust.

The place is, to put it in one word, a Frankenstein. Unrelated themes pieced together to form a “garden”. French marble-like statues greeted us at the entrance, pseudo terracotta warriors sat on the far right while a Chinese-Japanese unkempt garden flourished on our left. There was a hut-like structure housing some natural stones taken from caves with old bicycles plastered on its outside walls as part of the deco.

The garden
Half naked statues
Bridge over the koi pond
Various stones

As for the animals, there were two silver tabbies in a huge cage with a pile of cat biscuits and murky water, three crocodiles, one of whom was toothless and a whole range of sad-looking fish in algae covered tanks. There were some which were in clean tanks. I had a one-sided depressing conversation with an enormous fish which wore a miserable expression. “Help! Free me!” it seemed to say.

Silver tabby
Toothless croc

Sad fish

I really wouldn’t recommend anyone to go there.

Christmas eve was spent in the company of church friends with carollers and food until past midnight.

On Christmas Day, we went to the Wesley Methodist Church which shifted to it's no-longer-new premises before heading back to PJ.

Christmas 2011 Road Trip - South

It’s been a crazy two months, with work piling and family trips planned. Work life has been even crazier as stronger emphasis has been given to my portfolio for next year, and given that I’m solo in my department, I’ve been mentally exhausted to the point that I just come home to play my Facebook games to erase work from my mind and relax before I sleep.

Anyway, this Christmas has been a bit more special. Ron came back and we planned a road trip covering the southern and northern tips of Peninsular Malaysia as a family. All in 10 days.

First, we went to Johor Bahru and stayed a night at my aunt’s new apartment. My uncle had a theme to everything in the apartment (like a F1 themed master bedroom and bathroom, black circles with a silver core for tables, deco etc). I never knew he was artistically inclined!

We headed to Singapore where we stayed in Asphodel Inn, Little India. We were initially doubtful to be staying there but because it was Christmas season, all other motels were rather expensive. Think SGD, two rooms, two nights and there was nothing below RM1,000 except for this deal I found on

Turns out, the inn was bearable and in the process, we discovered this great place called Mustaffa! The entire time we were in Singapore was to hang out at Mustaffa and City Square Mall beside it. We even missed the lights in Orchard (but mainly because the MRT was down during the days we were there). Plus Mustaffa was open 24 hours! If I could, I would have bought a whole load of stuff there! Thankfully, we were limited by the amount we could carry as we took public transport into Singapore.

We were in Singapore to attend my mum’s cousin’s 70th birthday. There we met cousins and relatives we’ve never met before. Not that we could talk to them in that short night but at least we connected with a couple and will try to keep in touch.

Uncle John and I sat down to update the family tree (Ron's camera makes my skin look flawless! Like!!)
My Mum's cousin, Ivy and her husband John, with my family.

The next day we had to rush from Singapore to Malacca for KS’s cousin’s wedding. Reaching there with just about time to get ready for the dinner, my parents and Ron continued their journey back to PJ.

The wedding turned out to be one of the most fun ones I’ve attended because KS relatives simply made themselves at home, taking photos in large boisterous groups, catching up with relatives we meet usually during CNY, 15 relatives from Indonesia also attended. I think there were about 80 tables so I didn’t even end up saying hello and wish the couple congrats because they were swamped with so many people!

This wedding happened to be KS’s cousin Andrew from Australia’s first Chinese wedding and he completely immersed himself with the YAM SENG. You can imagine the Yam Seng toasts were pretty er, exuberant and the Indonesians were er, amused (and probably thinking “These Malaysians quite kampong one…”).

KS parents had one Indonesian couple as guests at their home and they brought an interesting plant which you can make cincau from just the leaves. It was really, really good and I had several generous helpings of it. Unfortunately I could not communicate with them as they speak Mandarin while their Indonesian was heavily accented. Still, we had more relatives pour in during the day we were there and got to know Singaporean relatives whom I’ve never met.

Saturated with family gatherings and meeting new relatives, KS and I headed back to PJ into the complaining strains of Ang Ku for leaving her alone for days. Reached in time to do some laundry and bake a cake for KS’s grandma before repacking for the second leg of our holidays.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Uniquely Japan

Here's a compilation of stuff I found to be uniquely Japanese.

Vending machines. Yes, they are EVERYWHERE. Majority of them sell drinks though.

Vending machine to order food, bring the coupon to the counter and they will cook it for you. Staff don't need to handle cash then. Smart. But took us about 10 mins to figure which ones were what, ended up with us guessing and crossing our fingers.
Vending machines selling drinks. Some machines sell the same drinks with different prices. Only if you're free enough to compare lah.
Vending machine selling ties, batteries and SD cards. Strange combination.

Animation is everywhere, from instructional to informational to just about anything.
This was up in mountains in Hakone with the black eggs. I have no idea why Hello Kitty is there posing with the black egg.
Other countries would show a stick man. In Japan, it's a boy and a girl on each side of the door with their hands getting caught in the door. 
Even Mt Fuji has a soft toy. Guess who fell in love with it and bought it in a blink of an eye...
I have no idea what these two girls were supposed to be. Rabbit ears with tanned faces. 
Mascot for the Shinkansen, a platypus with Japanese eyes.
Salesgirl at Akihabara. Most of them were dressed like this.
There were even Ultraman drinks!

Then of course, Japan captions are the source of corny lines:
Advertising for Pachinko. Bring me there now!
Even when I didn't feel like going, I was spurred to go to toilet with this enthusiastic encouragement.

And a few other things I noted:
Japan is very compact. Less space means smaller fittings. Tiny sink. 
Where everything is wrapped. Brown and white sugar cubes individually wrapped.
Creative toilet fittings. Here's the all-in-one sink. Water and soap at the top and dryer at the bottom.  I can't believe I don't have any pictures of their toilet bowls with their many buttons!
A toilet built only for kids. Low sink, small toilet bowls etc. Adult's use the mirror on top, just to show you how low the sink and hand dryer are located.
Portable toilets. Reminds me of a Japanese prank joke found on YouTube...
All waste is sorted, even at fast food outlets. Plastic and paper.
And they have the squatting toilet, smartly built. Looks like a lying urinal.