Malaysia

Pulau Ketam — where the rainbow paints

The KTM commuter train finally stopped at the ramshackle station of Perlubahan Klang.  We had reached the end of the line of a trip that started at the Batu Caves at the other end.  The distance between the two stations didn’t seem too far when viewed from the route map.  I didn’t realize that I was on a real train on a route meant to cover great distances and not on the monorail that wound its way around the city and its fringes.  It took a whole two hours and countless stops for me to realize this.  As the train moved farther and farther from KL the scenery turned more rural.  The trip was very comfortable but except for the shop houses at Klang there wasn’t much to see from the train windows.

One of my favorite scenes.

There was hardly anyone on the train car as I stepped out into the bright afternoon sunshine.     The dock was just a few steps from the station past a some Indian eateries.  Following the sign that read “Pualu Ketam boat,” I found myself at a small table manned by a Chinese girl who sold me a two tickets fr RM 7 each.  One was for the trip to the island and the other for the return.  The boat had just arrived a couple of minutes earlier and a few passengers were heading down the gangplank to the boat.

A few seats were occupied and I sat at a window seat at the center row.  The a/c was cold and there was something showing on the large television mounted on the wall.  It took about 15 minutes before the boat departed more than half-full.  The blue and white speed boat was old but it seemed fairly sea worthy as it skidded over the waters past some islets and mangroves.

About a quarter to an hour, the boat docked at a small pier and a few passengers stood-up.  I grabbed my backpack and was about to stand-up when an elderly Chinese man with a woman I presumed to be his wife told me that it wasn’t Pulau Ketam yet which was the next isalnd.  Hmmm… perhaps my overall look (backpack and fisherman pants) signaled TOURIST!

The boat then proceeded to the next island and we  all disembarked and walked up the gangplank and to a large covered cement pier.  I followed the crowd and the Chinese couple ahead of me.  People seemed to know everyone as departing and arriving passengers greeted each other.

If it weren’t for the hotel a few meters from the pier and the rows upon rows of restaurants lining the small road to the center of the small town, Pulau Ketam would seem like it’s totally out of the tourist trail.  There were more locals than tourists and all the stores merely sold food and everyday items rather than tourist junk.  Absolutely no sign of a “Pulau Ketam– the Forgotten City” (as one travel brochure called it) t-shirt.

Honestly, when I reached a small roundabout with a large cauldron and two temples which seemed to be the town center, I was a little disappointed.  It was pretty but there didn’t seem to be anything else.  I thought of going back to the boat which was due to leave in about 30 minutes but the thought of the long train ride led me to stay.  I could kill a couple of hours in this town and still make it back to KL before dark in time for dinner, I told myself.

Looking blankly at a low wall with Chinese characters and contemplating on what to do, Mr. Chinese came swinging by on a bicycle.  He was sight-seeing too.  He asked me if I was staying the night or was going back to KL.  I answered to the latter.  At a small blue house overlooking a tributary of the river, a small Chinese-looking  film crew was cooling their heels while a Malay guy explained a few things about the  temple to them.  They seemed to be making a feature.

A tableaux of dieties inside a spirit house beside the temple

Seeing Mr. Chinese on a bike reminded me of my long-overdue resolve to learn to ride one.  It’s one of the best ways  to explore the nooks and crannies of places such as this one.  In the meantime, I had to make do with my legs.  With no clear sense of orientation or where I wanted to go, I simply took to the backstreets and discovered a quaint town of  beautiful colored houses and a relaxed vibe.

Flying dragon

Across the bigger temple with its sculpture of floating dragons that seemed to float on air was a small locked house.  Behind it was a concrete yard overlooking a canal.  A couple of large wooden tables held statues of deities, a couple of which had their heads covered with scraps of newspapers.  Several hand drums with long handles (how I drooled over them) lay on one side  packets of yellow paper with Chinese characters.  Discards from an old temple?

An air of sleepiness pervaded the town.  Perhaps the heat of the day drove everyone inside. Even the vendors were quiet; their goods spread unguarded on tables near the open shop fronts.  Business was slow in the restaurants all purveying seafood.  It was a relief to just walk past them without anyone shoving a plastic menu on your face.  I espied a couple of whites having a meal in one of the round wooden tables and they seemed just as surprise to see me as I with them.

The population seemed to be largely Chinse going by the looks of the town people and the names of the stores.  It was a just a few weeks to the Chinese Lunar New Year which probably explains the freshly-painted and cleaned houses. One lady was perched on a stool busy wiping off probably a year’s worth of soot and grime on the red spirit house on her front yard.

This would be at home at any beach

If a rainbow had dropped from the sky and splattered on land painting all the houses, this would be the place.  I spent a couple of hours just quietly admiring the beautiful houses painted in bright hues of the rainbow.  It was remarkable how the people of a small simple town on a small village could spend so much energy to make even the most simple wooden house so colorful with.  At each turn of the corner, I would come across a house more lovely than the previous one.  It was a pure delight to simply stroll along the narrow streets with hardly any people.  It would have been perfect if not for the trash on the canals and a few scruffy yards.

By the time I walked back to the boat to catch the 4:30 trip, I wished I had known there were accommodations in the island as I would have wanted to stay longer and catch the sunset on the river.

The boat was already at the dock waiting for passengers heading back to Perlabuhan Klang.  School had just let out and a gang of school children in their brown and white uniforms clambered on a wooden ferry to take them to the nearby islands where they lived.

I took my seat (window, center row) as more people got in, some with boxes and sacks they put at the front of the cabin.  The door closed and we sped across the quiet waters of the river.  In a couple of hours the sun would set painting the water a lovely shade of orange just like some of the houses. As I slunk in my seat and looked at the mangroves on the short, I knew I would be back and this time stay.

The most memorable places are those that take time to grow on you.  There are no “ooohhhhssss” nor “aaaahhhhssss.”  Only quiet meditative appreciation.  It’s as close as you can get to being enchanted.

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Rice Balls at Restaurant Famosa

Eat or Not Eat: EAT!

I’ve been to Melaka twice and both times I have  failed to get in.  I have not heard of Restaurant Famosa along Jonker Street but the long lines, strategic corner location, and tantalizing picture menus out front somehow meant that it was one of the best places to eat in Melaka. In a place famous for its cuisine, being one of the IT places to eat means something really good is cooking inside.

If salt had a flavor other than salty this would be it. Flavorful saltiness, perhaps?

On my third trip to last January I was determined to finally eat here and this time I had a winning chance.  Staying in Melaka for three days which meant being able to beat the lunchtime crowd.  Fortunately, Restaurant Famosa opens at 9:3o in the morning.  At 10:30, there was hardly anyone there but the two people in the roast counter were busy packing roast duck meals in styoropore lunch kits. The middle-aged guy in a white boat-hat and apron was busy carving-up the duck while the other packed it with a large cup of steamed fragrant rice.  There must have been about a hundred orders as rows and rows of neatly packed lunch kits placed in large plastic bags lined the tables behind them.

I’m not a fan of chicken rice as the white chicken flesh makes it look so raw.  I settled for the roast pork with 5 pcs of their famous rice balls and a bowl of fish ball soup.

While waiting and since there weren’t much people, I went on a mini tour of the spacious restaurant which was a converted shophouse.  Marble-topped tables and chairs were neatly placed in the common area while an enclosed space with carved windows was reserved for private dining.  At the far corner near the restroom was a row of Chinese royal costumes for rent for a photo-op at a made-up imperial throne and background.

I liked thesquare marble-top tables with wooden legs. They look like the ones in traditional Chinese tea houses.

I should have stayed here so people wouldn't see how much food I was eating.

It didn’t long for my food to arrive.  The rice balls weren’t just any ordinary steamed rice formed into compact balls.  The rice was a little sticky and very fragrant and tasty.  It perfectly complemented the roast pork.

The pork was sliced thinly and had really crispy skin I  could feel it crackling between my teeth while I relished the tender pork meat. It had a salty bite to it that was very flavorsome. If salt had a taste other than salty, that would have been it.  I had yet to finish my entire serving and yet I was already making plans of coming back the next day for more while all the while contemplating of having an additional order of  barbecued pork.

It was too late when I realized the fish balls in the soup were just the ordinary fish balls  and not something more exciting.  The soup was good anyway and came in steaming hot in a large white bowl.  I should have taken the suggestion of the order-taker to try the wanton soup.  The picture of the fish balls made me think it was something akin to a wanton.

My favorite topping is the green one.

And in Melaka, what perfect way to end a meal than with a bowl of cold cendol.  Unlike the watered-down version available in some stalls, this one was quite thick with coconut cream and was heaping with condiments.

I had a really really good meal and thoroughly enjoyed it so much that I went on my last morning in Melaka for brunch before heading to the bus station for the trip back to KL.  Never mind that I’ve already had a Nonya rice dumpling and a popiah at Poh Piah Lwee. I just had to tuck into my taste memory the flavorful saltiness of the roast pork, the fragrance of the rice ball, and discover the barbecued pork.

I went to the much smaller restaurant just beside the larger one.  It was almost 11 so there were more people.  A group of women who seemed to have come from Singapore occupied the next table. While a Malaysian Chinese couple sat across me. I threw all embarrassment to the wind and ordered a plate of roast pork and a plate of barbecued pork. Halfway through the meal, I ordered an additional two rice balls as I was about to finish the five I had ordered. Of course, a cendol ended the meal.

Burp!

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Old Town “Kopi”

Those who are wary of street side stalls dispensing the ubiquitous Malaysian kopi can head to any of the modern air-conditioned kopi tiam now dotting KL.  A departure from the old-fashioned kopi tiam of old, the upscale version is more Western than Malaysian as far as physical structure and interiors are.  The coffee however is distinctly Malay.  Served hot or cold, with condensed milk or not, it’s Malaysia in a cup or glass.  I prefer the hot sweet kopi c paired with some kaya toast.

Old Town Coffee is probably the best of the lot of modern kopi tiam.  It is everywhere in KL and the I guess, the rest of Malaysia too.  I saw a branch in Georgetown.  This one was taken on my first trip to KL back in 2008 at a small branch inside the Central Market where I ducked for respite from the heat.

 

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My attempts at Peranakan cooking

THE CHALLENGE: create a Peranakan menu for 50 people.  Everything has to be ready by 4pm.

THE DISHES:  Nonya Fried Rice Ayam Sioh (which is to be renamed Babi Sioh as I was going to use pork instead of chicken), Ooi Kiew Ayam (Turmeric Fried Chicken), Kerabu Bihon, and Fish Belanda.

THE CREW: Me, Buritsky, Mary Ann, Aldrin with some help from Omeng, Vivian, and Marie.

8:30am

Everyone is busy shelling shrimps, squeezing limes, and cutting-up vegetables.  Vivian tells me the best she can do with the cucumber and the carrots for the Kerabu Beehon is to julienne them thinly.  I had wanted them to be hair-like thin.  The chicken is marinating and the pork is waiting for its fate.  I still have to give kulintang lessons.

9:30am

Kulintang lessons are over and I check what’s going on in the kitchen.  The chicken looks a little anemic so I have more turmeric powder added together with freshly pounded turmeric roots.   I suddenly remember our lunch at the Indian restaurant in Georgetown where we stuffed ourselves sick with masala, dosa, and chapati. Heading to the rest room beside the kitchen, I see the cook, an think man in his 40s marinating some chicken in a large plastic tub.  It was really yellow.

Buritsky is off to the grocery to buy additional ingredients particularly the bean paste and the tamarind.  I tell her to go look for hoi sin sauce instead if there’s no bean past.

11:00am

I take out the trusty mortar and pestle and begin pounding on a kilo of shallots to extract about a cup of juice to be used for the Babi Sioh. I feel like I am Tita in “Like Water for Chocolate.” I make a mental note of looking for the recipe for Quail in Rose Petal Sauce so I can make it for my birthday. Suddenly, an idea comes to my head. Last year, I had healthy food inspired from the travels.  This year, why not make it a Literary Feast?  Food from the pages of literary writings! 

11:10 am

At 400/k those little dried shrimps called hibe and currently soaking in a bowl to wash off some of their saltiness as well as coloring has got to be one of the most expensive crustaceans.  I’ve seen large tubs of them for sale at Vietnam’s markets their pungent smell wafting though the air attracting both buyers and flies.

The hibe is to be pounded and mixed with red chillies to create a paste for the Nonya Fried Rice.

I look for the chilli and I am horrified to  see  siling labuyo (bird-eye chilli).  Aaaarrrggghhhhh!  Too late to ask anyone to run to the market and buy the large green chillies so amidst Mary Ann’s warnings that my sisters don’t like it hot, I get two pieces and pound them with the hibe.

11:20am

I toast the coriander seeds in a pan and their aroma fills the kitchen.  Back to the mortar so they can be grounded.

11:30am

Mary Ann has wrung out the milk from the coconut and I tell her to add it to the fish head soup cooking for lunch.  I put the shredded coconut meat in a large pan and begin toasting; a task made difficult by the fact that I have to constantly keep stirring the meat lest it burns.  Smells really really good though.

11:40am

I had learned earlier that belachan is dried shrimp paste flattened into cakes the closes equivalent of which is the Visayan ginamos.  I settle for  fresh alamang cooked on a pan until it dries.  I transfer it to the mortar and add chillies again (nore more than 2!)  to make sambal belachan, a primary ingredient in the kerabu.

12:00am

Buritsky finally arrives.  Out of the grocery bags is a single bottle of hoi sin sauce!!!! How am I supposed to make that fit with 5k of pork?!  She has forgotten that I told her to buy 5 bottles.  Again, too late to go to the grocery.  She does find some sweet tamarind imported from Thailand and packaged by Dole.  It’s not nearly enough to extract some pulp for the tamarind water but it will have to make do.

12:15pm

The coconut meat is finally done but has none of the sweetish coconut taste I expected. It also didn’t look like anything that came out of the tiny packets that came with boxes of rice cakes.   I add some sugar and it improves a bit.  Mary Ann says I shouldn’t have extracted the milk but I surmised it wouldn’t have tasted.    I’ve never made toasted coconut before. Maybe she was right.  This one would have to do.

Buristsky starts cooking the Babi Sioh.

12:20pm

I have Mary Ann start frying the garlic slices and shallots for the Fish Belanda.

12:30pm 

Lunch break of cream dory fish head cooked in coconut meal. Delicious.

1:00pm

Mary Ann starts frying the 5k of fish while I start extracting the tamarind pulp. It’s a sordid and messy affair involving lots of hot water, mashing and hand wringing. Won’t go into details as it might just turn you off from any dish that contains tamarind water.

A word of warning when frying cream dory.  There’s so much fat so make sure you cover the pan or else you’re gonna need a lot of anti-burn ointment.

1:15pm

Aldrin starts frying the chicken.

I make the lime dressing for the Kerabu Beehon.  Mixing the  sambal belachan with the lime juice and lots of sugar results in a delicious dressing.  I can’t wait to try it with the noodles.

2:00pm

The pork is cooked and the sauce has thickened into a gravy.  It’s melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  It’s sliced in thin rounds and arranged on serving trays.  The gravy is watered down though as I find a little salty.  Buritsky thinks it’s okay but I’d rather err on the safe side.  I’m surprised at the quick cooking time considering that we used a charcoal burner!

I prepare the sauce for the Fish Belanda. Buritsky has forgotten to buy cinnamon stick so I make do with cinnamon powder instead.  The recipe doesn’t call for any thickening agent but I find the sauce too thin so I thicken it so it would stick to the fish better. Tamarind juice and cinnamon is delicious.  I tastes just like the fish we had at Peranakan Cuisine in Melakka.

2:30pm

Rhoda and a few people arrive and watch.  The noodles have been blanched so I mix them with the lime-belachan using my hands (with gloves of course) to mix them all up together with the julienned cucumber and carrots and the toasted coconut.  The toasted coconut as expected merely gives texture rather than taste.  There’s none of the coconut taste that would have made the flavour more interesting.

There’s not enough blanched prawns so everything goes to the kerabu while the fried rice will just have to settle with the dried fish flakes.

3:00pm

The food is packed except for the chicken and the rice which are still cooking.   Rhoda brings them to Yna’s place.  I tell her to use the batik tablecloth she bought at Titro Nono in Yogyakarta.

What the Nonya Fried Rice lacks in ingredients it makes up for in taste and color.  It’s really delicious ( yehey for hibi and chilli paste) though I would have wanted to be a little spicy.  Since I used the oil from the chicken, it was colored a bright yellow green!

3:30pm

We’re done.

THE VERDICT: Everyone said it was delicious and not because they were relative and friends 🙂  People went back for seconds and thirds and they were just saying how delicious it was, especially the rice.  I was surpised that they enjoyed the Kerabu Beehon as the dish was a little strange to the Pinoy palate who was used to having noodles cooked as a viand and not as a salad.

WHAT I LEARNED:

1.  Nonya cooking isn’t really complicated.  No special cooking techniques were needed.  What made it difficult was sourcing the right ingredients.

2.  If you’re gonna buy a cookbook of the cuisine of a particular place you might as well buy some long-shelf-life ingredients such as tamarind, bean paste, black nuts, and candle nuts.

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Precious and Delicious

Central Market is the place to browse for interesting finds from kitschy tourist souvenirs to expensive pewter to unusual antiques.    The former wet market’s second lease in life (it was rescued from demolition by conservationists) is beautiful Art Deco architecture with fun browsing opportunities.  Persistence and the ability to bargain in Bahasa-Melayu has yielded a particularly precious keepsake— an old rebab hanging anonymously at a small shop tucked in a corner of the ground floor near the ATMs. The shop was crammed with antiques some of which made me swoon with delight only to be replaced with frustration at the high price.  After the cheap finds in Indonesia, the high price in Malaysia was a bit of a shock.  Nevertheless, I had to take home something I could preciously own and remind me of this particular trip so out came the card and with one swipe, RM 200 was gone from the my credit.

After I had bought a "kompang," the shopkeeper consented to let me take 1 picture of this instrument which costs more than RM1,000!

On the second floor was another precious find, albeit something closer to the stomach than to the mind.   We decided to treat ourselves in this most heart-breaking of all nights while traveling—the night when you finally pack your bags, weigh them, check your planet ticket, and bid a silent farewell to your hotel room (in my case, my guesthouse room).  A treat meant dining in a real restaurant with proper food service.  No more fluorescent lights and plastic chairs and tables and waiters that simply put your plate of food in front of you.

We had been attracted to the Rainforest Cafe which advertised a  Ramadan buffet. When we got there we were told it was offered only on Fridays.  We checked the menu of  international dishes but none seemed interesting.  We were resigned to the food court until we stumbled on the wooden exteriors of  Precious Restaurant as we came up the stairs.

It truly was a  precious place for a memorable meal.  After all the delicious and authentic Peranakan cuisine we had been dining on at Melaka and Penang who would have thought that back at KL, we would be feasting on yet another spread from some Nonya’s generations-old recipe stash.

These two Nonya went crazy with the last remaining "pie tee!"

These are the "pie tee" before the two Nonya above devoured them.

Entering the the restaurant we were transported to the resplendent world of the Straits Chinese.  Time-worn wooden tables with chairs, no two of which are exactly the same, are arranged  in a simply but beautifully furnished spacious area. On one side is a small area with folding wooden wall for private dining.  With its long table that could sit around a dozen Baba and Nonya and walls  adorned with old doors painted with  faded flower motifs, you could dine like a true Peranakan.

"Otak otak" all wrapped-up in a banana leaf.

"Otak otak"

The food was utterly savory and delicious with the multi-hued flavors bursting from each dish.  Most notable was the otak-otak which arrived from the kitchen in a small banana-leaf parcel steaming hot.  The curry flavored the flaked fish deliciously.  Unlike the one we had at the buffet at the  Sri Nonya Cafe in Georgetown, this one tasted really like fish and had a finer texture.  Come to think of it, anything offered in a buffet is bound to have some quality issues.  Fun to assemble and eat was the pie tee— an appetizer of julliened carrots and turnips and minced chicken which you put in tinyhat-shaped shells and topped with a spicy sauce.

It is my opinion that if Indonesia’s contribution to rice cuisine is nasi goreng then Malaysia’s is nasi lemak.  This is one tasty rice that could be eaten cold and still be delicious.  But the rice tinted blue with butterfly pea flowers was just as delicious and visually exciting.

I liked the way vegetables are flavored and cooked in Peranakan cuisine.  The Chinese are masters at stir-frying so the greens always come out of the fire crisp.  Perhaps we should have been more adventurous with our vegetable choice as we had  Nonya Chap Chai again.

All good Peranakan meals should end with a sweet bowl of Nonya Cendol.  At Precious, this was served separate with the milk and gula melaka which cued me to ask for more of the latter.  It was as sweet as sweet can be.

A cup of milk and a cup of "gula melaka" for my "cendol."

If only for the really delicious food served amidst tasteful interior  and the outstanding service by the well-mannered waiters, dining at Precious was nothing short of precious.

A Baba and some Nonya

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Chocolates and Ballroom Dancing at the Red Garden

Red Garden seemed like an immensely and cheap place to try out the varied Penang cuisine so we headed there for our last  dinner in Penang.  It was just a stroll away from Lebuh Chulia anyway.

We dropped by at The Chocolate Boutique first for chocolates with exotic flavors like chili, durian, and curry. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the latter one.  It was unknown to them even if the branch at Kota Kinabalu, where I first become acquainted with this marvelous chocolate place and its Beryl’s brand, had them.  Maybe certain branches had specific stocks.  Too bad because nothing could be more exotic than curry-flavored chocolate.  They did have the white chocolate with coconut, though.  It was less than an hour to closing so there were hardly anyone there.  The best thing about The Chocolate Boutique is the free sampling which we kinda took advantage of especially when no one was looking.  The place is divided into small rooms which had a certain theme such as “fruits” which had fruit-flavored chocolate on the shelves.  The “love” room had heart-shaped chocolates. I took home a box of durian chocolates, the coconut chocolate, and a package of durian white coffee.

Option paralysis set-in at next door Red Garden.  I couldn’t decide what to have.  Chinese, India, and Western were definitely out.  The girls had it easier as Yna went for Japanese and Julie and Jeannete went for biryani, satay, and lamb steak.  Me? I took the easy way out too—stop choosing and just order!  I had an assam laksa (very tasty tamarind-flavored soup), a Hokkien mee, belacang fried rice, and fried oyster.  A big bowl of cendol turned down the heat of the noodle soups.

Hokkien mee

Assam Laksa. The tamarind puts some oomp on the soup.

Surprise! Filipino food makes an appearance at Georgetown! We would have ordered out of patriotic duty. But longganisa or tocino paired with spaghetti? Anemic-looking pics of crispy pata? No wonder no lines at this stall. Sad.

Tuesday night is ballroom night at the Red Garden and a keyboard-singer duo came on at the small stage at the center of the food court.  The female singer wasn’t bad at all and she had none of the nasal singing that usually accompanies Chinese singers when they do English songs. The male keyboardist sounded like a karaoke whenever he sang.

Elderly couples took to the small dancing area.  It seemed like some take the dancing seriously as a couple of middle-aged ladies were a little dressed-up. It was entertaining to watch the characters that people the dance floor.  Catching everyone’s attention was  a fifty-ish man who stood at one corner of the dance floor and lip-synced all the songs while miming it.  It was hilarious especially when he would point at someone pretending to be referring to that person in the song.  At the front of the stage, a Caucasian lady of about the same age, probably a little older, danced stiffly and awkwardly alone looking  like a flag pole strutting on a windy day.  She never once left the dance floor.  A little later in the evening, she was dancing with a fat special child. Apparently, the waitress with a bad wig day at the Sri Nonya Cafe has a sister; at least in wig.  Dancing with an white-mustached guy in a fedora, striped long-sleeved shirt, and suspenders was a lady, a little younger than him, wearing almost the same type of blonde wig! Maybe wigs are really in these days in Georgetown!  Hers was a little better though as it looked more natural.  The couple seemed to dance in slow motion unmindful at times of the music’s up tempo.  They also had strange dance steps.

Option-paralysis at Red Dragon. How about some frog?

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Of Highland Strawberries and Tea

img_1378After the muddy jungle trekk, we were bound for something more tame and genteel.  With its year-round cool weather, the Cameron Highlands is famous for its tea plantations.  We stopped for lunch at a roadside eatery where I had some Indian stuff that tasted quite good though I didn’t quite know what it was.  My Jap companion had chicken rice which he pronounced delicious and the three Singaporean leadies had strir-fried noodles.

Roadside Accident

Coasting along the winding highway, we passed a car that had been smashed in an accident.  The driver was leaning back on his seat.  He didn’t look bad and there didn’t seem to be any blood.  A couple of people were just looking around an nobody seemed to be doing anything.  We were all concerned with the driver and why there didn’t seem to be anyone helping him.  Balan said that if he, for example, would take-in the driver to bring him to the hospital and on the way something should happen to the injured, die for example, he would be responsible for him.  That means court appearances, testimonies, and other hassles. He assured us that somebody would have called the police already.

Tea Stop

The Cameron Valleywas pretty enough but small.  We lined-up for some tea and scones but there were just so many tourists, mostly locals, so we opted out. There was nice gift shop that had tea-inspired stuff such as tea gift packs, mugs, and other stuff.  I regret not getting a pretty mug with the “Cameron Valley” engraved on it.

A much better plantation and the most famous and the biggest in Southeast Asia was the Boh Tea Plantation.  Unlike the Cameron Valley which is owned by an Indian, the Boh is owned by a Scottish family whose roots in the Cameron date back to the days when Malaysia, Borneo, and Sarawak were part of the British Empire.  After all, it was a Brit engineering surveyor, Sir William Cameron, who discovered and founded the hill station.

Tea Tea as Far as the Eyes Can See

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Being a Monday, the plantation was closed so Balan parked at view point and we went down to the tea shrubs.  All around, on the valley below and its surrounding hills were tea shrubs that cut pretty square patterns like a checker board.  The plantation was really so vast.  It was tea as far as the eyes could see.  Balan explained that the shrubs were 86 years old already and they were so prolific that tea leaves could be harvested every 21 days.  The shrubs were also very strong and he laid on them.  Of course I tried it too 🙂

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Being such a truthful and really informative guide, Balan asked us whether we wanted the truth or the little lies.  We chose the truth.  He said that the best teas are now from Sri Lanka as the Cameron teas are no longer hand-picked.  To emphasize his point, he plucked a stem and said that good tea comes from young leaves and only the first 3 ones!  In the olden days, the British brought in many Indians to work the plantations.  In fact, his ancestors came to Cameron as part of that work force.  So maybe that explains the sizeable Indian community.  The teas are now machine-picked which doesn’t differentiate the different leaves, the stems, and even weeds.  He also said that even a passing snake gets thrown in!  True enough, there were patches of stems that didn’t have any leaves.  By the way, “Boh” stands for “Best of highland.”

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Hyrdophonic Strawberries

After the vastness of the tea plantations, the strawberry farm was a really big disappointment.  I would have sooner visited the farms at La Trinidad valley back home.  Turns out that all the farms at the Cameron use the hydrophonic system which means instead of the bushes being planted on the ground like they have always been since these sweet red treats appeared on the face of the planet, they are placed in hospital-looking white bags and lined-up neatly in rows on narrow wooden tables and all conveniently placed in green houses.  Looks more like a science experiment on plant grafting than a strawberry farm.  Thank goodness for the really good ice cream generously heaped with slighty sour strawberry syrup and fresh strawberries.

We were back at Tanah Rata just when dusk was settling in.  Passing Brinchang, a pasar malam (night market) was setting-up already.  It would have been nice to get-off and experience it but with so many people, getting cab home would have been difficult.

It was a really great day.

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