Food, Travel

Bak Kut Teh

Klang Bak Kut Teh (肉骨茶; ròu gu-chá)

Malaysia is a haven for food, with 11 of its dishes appearing on the list. Today, on Diwali, which happens to be a public holiday in Malaysia, my family and I decide to make a food trip to Klang, home to a unique dish.

Restoran Bah Kut Teh 155

Yeap, this dish happens to be ranked number 468 on the Lonely Planet’s must-try eat-list. It has a similar origin story to that of Tikka Masala, where it’s not actually a dish from India, but rather an Indian dish that the Indian immigrants in the UK perfected over time. Similarly, Bak Kut Teh (BKT) is a creation that the early Chinese Immigrants from the Fujian province brought along and perfected when they re-settled in South-East Asia. Today, BKT is a favorite amongst locals an tourists alike, and many embark on their pilgrimage to Klang to try the dish at one of the many famous local restaurants, or like myself, seek the one BKT restaurant that we love the most among the many.

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One of many in Klang, I hope it surpasses my expectations.

Cost: RM 83.00 (4 pax, RM 20.75 per person)

What to expect:

For anybody trying BKT for the first time, the first thing about the dish that captures their fancy is the rich, unmistakable herbal aroma that precedes it. That being said, there are two main versions of the dish, one with soup (the original), and the dry one. Both are served with rice, Chinese doughnuts, and tea.

The taste of BKT is as follows: a unique herbal taste from the multitude of herbs used in the brewing process, followed by a strong umami flavor brought about from the pork in the soup. This combination of flavors is what makes BKT as a dish a unique entry in any local foodie’s go-to-list. In addition to the aforementioned taste, the soupy version of BKT, which happens to be how the migrant workers from Fujian prepared it back in the day, is loaded with pork ribs, lettuce, mushrooms, and tofu.

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They say that taste speaks for the food itself, no other way than to try and judge for yourself.

The dry version, however, is the one that I personally prefer. Much more saturated in flavor, the dry version also has an added salty taste to it that adds a different depth of flavor to the dish, making it far more delicious than it looks.

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A beautiful aroma precedes this one, and my expectations are set very high. Does it live up to its taste?

Nevertheless, differences in the recipe (both soup and dry) may vary with restaurant as the owner sees fit, leading to some BKTs leaning heavily to the herbal side, or keeping it mild and going overboard on the umami sensation, and determining the best BKT objectively can be point of contention amongst Klangites. As for this particular restaurant, in my honest opinion, none of their dishes, nor their flavors stood out particularly, and honestly I thought that their dry BKT was a letdown in that sense. However, their pork knuckle dish stood out to me in contrast to its sibling dishes, packing a punch to add much-needed flavor into an otherwise average meal.

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The saving grace of this meal, with just the right balance of sweetness, saltiness, and sourness to add a different, flavorful twist to an already not-bad meal. 

However, this is but one amongst the many BKT restaurants in Klang, and I personally am looking forward to going back to Klang to search my personal favorite BKT among the many.

Note:

While people may have differing opinions on which restaurant serves the best BKT (the discussion being purely subjective in nature), it cannot be denied that Klang has earned its reputation as being the Mecca equivalent for BKT. Thousands, be it tourists or locals, make their pilgrimage there every single day to get their fix of BKT. With almost as many BKT restaurants as there are shop-lots in the area, competition is high among the local restaurant owners, making it great for hungry visitors such as myself.

Another note, however, it should be noted that many of these BKT restaurants operate on the same clock as the Chinese restaurants in Malaysia, meaning that they are open for breakfast and dinner service. Typical opening times range from 7 am to 12 noon, and from 5 pm to 10 pm; so make plans ahead of time if you intend to make the trip all the way to Klang.

This article here gives a great insight into the historical context behind this popular dish.

While I do not claim to be an expert in Klang BKTs, I would wholeheartedly make the following recommendation if you happen to make the trip yourself; Fei Kay Bak Kut Teh, which is famous for the (godly flavorful) dry version. A more comprehensive list, compiled by a Klangite, lists some of the better BKTs that are scattered throughout the area.

Food, Quickies

A dose of Nostalgia

Penang Hokkien Noodles

Been here for 45 years, this store has only recently started gaining popularity among the Malaysian foodies. Luckily for me, my uncle happens to run this store, and during my visit to my grandfathers’ he decided to drop by too.

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Meet my aunt and uncle; the husband-wide duo that have been running the store their their parents’ days.

Where the topic of food is concerned, there will always be differences in taste/preference, and it is never more apparent especially among Penangese Malaysian. Do I think that he makes the best Hokkien noodles on the planet? Maybe not. Do I think that his dish tastes good, and is a great addition to the variety in Penang Hokkien cuisine? Hell yeah.

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Nostalgia in a bowl for me. What’s yours? Comment below and have a nice day!!

Cost: RM4.50 per bowl; additional pork ribs cost RM 1 per piece

What to expect:

A recipe perfected over 45 years, it is no surprise that my uncle stopped selling laksa and curry noodles in favor of these Hokkien Noodles, as evidenced by the aroma wafting from the soup itself. Misua and yellow noodles are the carbohydrates present in the dish, complimented by prawns, pork strips, bean sprouts, hard boiled eggs, pork ribs, and fried onions. The dish itself comes with a tablespoon of sambal (Malaysian hot sauce), in case you want to mix it into the soup for an added boost of spice. The first mouthful is instant love. The sweet, (slight) spiciness of the prawn broth overpowers everything on your tongue, leaving nothing but a wonderful tasting sensation that warms it to the core. With the second mouthful, you start picking up on more subtle flavors in the dish: from the sweetness of caramelized onions to the undercurrent of pork flavor, and if you mixed in the sambal, the flavor of the belacan that is enhanced by the soup. The flavors are soaked up by, or complimented by the individual ingredients, leaving an slightly sweet, prawn-ish, umami aftertaste on your tongue once the experience is over. And if you’re like me, who enjoys strong, unique, flavors in my food, you know you’ll be ordering a second bowl soon enough.

Note:

According to my uncle, the secret to this dish is the SLOW boiling of pork bones (or ribs) and prawn shells together to produce the soup which is the highlight of the dish. This is made even better when left to simmer over a long, slow, coal fire, where the full flavors in the soup can be unleashed. However, this tradition is dying out, as the increasing demand pressures hawkers into using gas stoves, which cook faster but do not yield the same character as when prepared traditionally. Also, the pork intestines are optional, too.

What’s more, the best part about the New Lane Street is that it is next to Macalister Road in Penang, a haven for some of the best culinary hotspots that Penang has to offer.

Food, Travel

Bukit Mertajam food treasures

Note: Food prices listed in Ringgit Malaysia

Kedai Kopi Ah Meng

Literally translating to Ah Meng’s Coffee Shop, this small, corner lot has been around for quite a while. It also happens to be a favorite go-to spot for locals and foreigners alike, made famous by the people who run the place. As I happened to be visiting my grandfather in Kulim (a nearby town), I took the opportunity to drop by and try these food treasures for myself. (Address is in this link.)

Looks very unassuming from the outside, then again it’s 4 in the afternoon when I arrived.

Rojak

One of the two stores in the coffee shop is run by a friendly lady by the name of Stella, who has been doing this for the past 15 years. The result? A pretty darn good plate of rojak.

Thanks, Stella!!
I ordered a RM 10 portion, time to dig in.

Cost: RM 4.00-10.00, depending on the portion

What to expect:

Rojak in Malay literally translates to a mixture. So it’s no surprise that the dish embodies the name in culinary form, containing chunks of mangoes, turnips, pineapples, cucumbers, chinese fried fritters, and prawn crackers. Then top it all off with a flood of thick, homemade prawn sauce, with varying amounts of sambal (local hot sauce), and then rain a heavy garnish of nuts to finish it off. Take a jab with your skewer, and surprise yourself. The beauty of this dish lies in the strong taste of the sweet, slightly salty, prawn sauce that takes center stage, and no matter the condiment you happen to pick, you’ll adding a slightly different twist of flavor to the performance on your tongue. Even better, the crunch from the nuts and the ingredients compliment the flavors, making for a unique culinary experience.

Note:

Stella’s personal recommendation is the spicy one, as she likes her rojak that way. 9/10 would recommend that, especially if you’re adventurous/love your spice.

Popiah

Run by the folk who own the coffee shop (who deigned to be named), this popiah is the must-have food if you ever visit. Where Stella’s rojak is pretty damn good already, the popiah here is to die for, having a reputation as the best in Malaysia’s food capital, Penang.

Cost: RM 4.50 per portion

What to expect:

Yes, it’s a giant roll cut into 4 pieces. Where the rojak has an emphasis on the sauce and all its goodness derived from the combination of different ingredients, the popiah is quite the opposite. Pack chicken strips, lettuce, bean sprouts, and prawns into a wrap. Now add  fried onions in it. The result is a simple, yet extremely satisfying wrap brought to life by the caramelized flavor of the fried onions, with the stuffing of the prawns and turnips bringing a subtle more mellow, flavor as well as texture to the table (literally). The hot sauce served with the dish brings another dimension to the simple combination, creating a culinary experience that is beautifully simple like no other.

Note:

Yes, the wait times can get long, expect 15-20 minutes depending on the size of the crowd. My advice is to order both the rojak, then the popiah, that way you can have the rojak while waiting for the popiah.


Kap Bung Steam Rice

A shop on it’s own, this culinary tourist attraction is the main attraction in Bukit Mertajam. Located just round the corner from Kedai Kopi Ah Meng, there is always a long queue outside the counter, and you’d be lucky to get a seat at all.

He’s been doing this for about 16 years now, and yes, he’s busy ALL the time.

 

Preparation is a simple process for him, but it’s the hard work behind the counter that we don’t see and appreciate enough.

 

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Cost: RM 5.50 per portion, RM 7.00 per large portion

What to expect:

The uniqueness of the dish lies in not in some secret magic sauce, but in the ingredients themselves. Imagine roast pork, roast duck strips, and roast chicken, packed together with nice, delicious rice, in a cup (which is where the dish got its name from; kap bung literally translates to cup rice in hokkien). Top it all off with a healthy serving of gravy and soy sauce and you have the best chicken rice in the whole of Malaysia. Only one word even comes close to embodying the taste of the Kap Bung: umami.

Note:

Come later in the afternoon, as the lunch hour crowds are a real large for both the customers and the vendors. Read up what the locals think of Kap Bung here, and if you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, the address is in the aforementioned link.


Fiji, Travel

Snippets of Fiji (6)

Where we last picked off, we were in Bavu village, saying farewells to families with whom we lived with for a month while we helped their children with their education and sports.

Where the last 5 snippets of Fiji were about life in a Fijian village, this last one is life on a literal island paradise.


We had our R&R on Robinson Crusoe Island Resort, which was a private island converted into a resort. The jetty from where we took a boat to the island is about 45 minutes drive from Nadi, surrounded by rows and rows of mangrove trees.

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Possibly a haven for all sorts of wildlife, unless you take a closer look for sure.

A boat ride out into the Pacific is uneventful, the view what you’d expect, until you see the island in the distance. The moment the island in the distance grows to the size of your hand, there’s music to be heard. Such is the legendary degree of Fijian hospitality.

 

With the boat captain, we are greeted with a loud “BULA!!” from the shore, and likewise we responded. The boat parks on the soft, white sand, and from there we step onto a literal island paradise, greeted by a boisterous, warm welcoming band.

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Spot the band yet?

An in-house swimming pool, a bar, and a Jacuzzi greet you as you make your way to the check-in desk. We were booked into a dormitory fit for 24, and boy did they think of it all. Mosquito nets covering the windows, a tub of water and a mat to wash and dry your feet after all the sand, and a nice, naturally ventilated dorm made it great, even better when shared with your mates.

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When there’s not many people around, it’s literally a perfect getaway.

Just right outside the bar lies a little makeshift counter, where you can grab your snorkel gear for free (you just have to return it at the end of the day). Next to this makeshift counter lies a board where the daily activities are listed, ranging from snorkel sessions to hermit crab races to turtle-spotting and booze cruises. Along the beach, chairs with buoyant cushions can be found (my friends nicked them and took them out to sea), but the best part is the line of kayaks, pedals, and life-jackets lying by, ready for the bold to take them out for a spin.

 

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Welcome to the Kayak show with your hosts: Sahirah, Lia, and Jenny. [P.C: Ellie Harding]
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Izzy, Jenny, and Lia after they nicked the cushions :3 [P.C: Jamie Cory]
 Walking around the island on foot takes 20 minutes, but however you’d have to be extremely stubborn to kayak all the way around the island. Just north of the island lies a massive seaweed bank in knee-deep water, making it almost impossible to kayak around the island during low tide. However, the adventurous always find alternative to have fun. Personally, after being frustrated by the seaweed bank, I kayaked out to open water and settled next to a fishing boat, about 400 meters from shore. With a high-tech set-up similar to what I used in the lake and fish guts for bait, it wasn’t long till two fish lay on top of my kayak.

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Forgot my phone when I went fishing. But hey, FISH EQUIPPED.

In the afternoon, a loud announcement heralds the snorkelling expedition. People who already gathered their gear rush to the boat, where we are taken to a small reef about a good kilometer or two from the island itself.

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That’s us snorkelling off into the distance. [P.C: Hannah Sorley]
While the corals themselves may not be as saturated as they are (due to red light refraction), a closer look guarantees an occasional surprise. Be it hermit crabs, small cones, little stingrays or derpy-looking fish, they never cease to amaze. (WHY ISN’T MY PHONE WATERPROOF Q.Q)

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That’s me skin-diving off to the bottom of the reef. Yes, there’s quite abit of leaves/debris, and no I did not catch any fish underwater :/ [P.C: Jamie Cory]
Late afternoons are often for rest and relaxation, but occasionally the locals do invite us to join their craft session, making little bracelets with tribal patterns out of old coconut shells.

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And there’s the hammock. You can see the dining area in the background. From left: Rhianna, Mel, Lia, and Tia (looking good y’all). [P.C: Lia Valentine]

In the evening, the highlight is the booze cruise. Place your orders before 4 pm, and gather by the beach at 6, pick your DJ and dance away to great music while enjoying the quality Fijian sunset.

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Booze cruise!! From left: Beth, Jodie, Johnnie 😀 [P.C: Mellissa O’ Reilly]
Nighttime has either one of two events, a small, quiet but cozy bonfire by the beach (which was held on our first night); or an all-out Meke session with LOTS of fire-dancing.

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Bonfire 😀
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Fire dance on the beach!!

Naturally, I got wasted by the beach and slept in the hammock for the entire night (windy, but not as cold as you’d imagine). But ‘camping out’ on the beach gave me another opportunity to witness another wonder. 6 am during July is the time to go for it, and a nice, slow southwards stroll along the beach to the edge of the island gives way to a sight of the open sea, and with it the priceless Fijian sunrise.

I truly felt alone, in a whole different world, with no cares or worries, no sadness or notion that farewell lay around the corner. Just me, the empty beach, and the rising sun, all stuck in those timeless moments.

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6:20 am local time by the beach.
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7:00 am local time along the coast.

Farewell to my foster family in Bavu was only two days ago, and today (22nd July) I had to return to Edinburgh. I’ll miss these people, who’ve become sort of second-family to me. And as I step onto the departing boat at 9 pm, leaving fellow volunteers behind me, I leave to the chant of TSUNAMI!! TSUNAMI!! TSUNAMI!!, knowing that somehow, this magical place took 21 strangers and bonded them together, leaving nothing but feels and memories.

Two farewells in two days is a harsh reminder life is fleeting, so enjoy it and treasure the people around you. I miss you guys.

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For those of you who are curious and wanna plan a trip to Fiji, I’d wholeheartedly recommend Robinson Crusoe island as your perfect getaway destination. You guys can check out the island here.

Fiji, Travel

Snippets of Fiji (5)

Where the first 4 snippets of Fiji were about life in Bavu village, in Nadronga-Navosa, this post focuses on the culture of the people, and also my last days in the village.


19th July 2018

1945 local time

The night began with a free and easy session with our foster families. The atmosphere was charged with tension, and everyone present felt it subtly. The inevitable was coming to pass; we were leaving Bavu tomorrow, making tonight our last one in Bavu. At the behest of the village elder, we all sat down. It was time to make peace with our foster families and the village folk. The tension that was felt slowly broke down as all of us did the same. Heartfelt words and tears from deep within poured out of both sides as we knew we had to part come dawn. I cried a lot. Compared to my life back in Edinburgh, Fiji seemed like paradise, and despite all its flaws, I had somewhere that I could call home away from home, and a foster family that I didn’t know that I loved until now.

With the tears and sadness out of the way for now, a grand feast was had for all present.

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Now we’re setting up for the kids, too.

Our bellies filled and our spirits lifted, the villagers held a Meke (meh-kei) for us to commemorate our time in the village. For those who don’t know, the Meke is a traditional Fijian performance that focuses on the history of the people, the Fijian warrior spirit, and the beauty of the human spirit. A Meke group comprises of a band with vocalists, and a bunch of performers. The vocals and performers sing/dance to the tempo of the band, which can go from a leisurely 60 bpm to a breakneck pace of 160 bpm and above. The best part of the Meke is that the performance is actually audience-inclusive, which means that spectators can actually be invited/dragged up to dance with the performers. While the dance moves are actually relatively easy to pick up, an energetic performance and being in perfect sync in the performers gets difficult at higher tempos, but it almost always makes for a good cardio session. Personally, I enjoyed the Meke session, both from a musical perspective (Fijian guitars are tuned a half step lower than usual, and the songs revolve around strumming 3 barre chords) and a dancing perspective, where I made it a point to have tons of fun. Soon enough, everyone joined in and the session turned into a congo-line/dance off, making our cardio far more enjoyable.

Note: video will be uploaded in the coming few days.

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Me and my Meke homies Maone and Esa.

Our bellies filled and our feet tired from all the dancing, we returned into the hall for our last kava sesh with our foster families.

Kava is a traditional Fijian beverage enjoyed during major events (weddings, funerals, celebrations), its name derived from the plant from which it is made from. The kava plant is native to Fiji, and is grown for at least two years before being harvested for its leaves (made into medicines) and the root which is ground into a powder and mixed into water to make the drink. Widely recognized as the Fijian alternative to alchohol, kava has a bitter taste that leaves a strange aftertaste and a slight numbing sensation on the tongue. While the taste might put many off, the beverage is known for its relaxing properties, with 5-6 bilo (bowl) being able to relax the entire body, 10 bilos and more inducing grogginess or even napping. Other side effects of kava include increased visits to the bathroom, as the beverage is also a diuretic, too.

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Kava root sample. At 1 Fijian Dollar per 10 grams (0.47 USD, 0.37 GBP), kava is considerably cheaper than alchohol.
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Taken from my foster father’s clan meeting. ‘Grogging’, as a kava session is also known as, is bound to have some people napping after 8-10 tsunamis.

There are rituals one must observe when participating in a kava sesh. The sesh is held around the central bowl, with the village elders and honored guests sitting at the head of the ceremony. You have three choices before offered a serving: low-tide, high-tide, and Tsunami, two of which are self-explanatory. While a standard bilo is palm-sized (shown below), a tsunami is easily twice the size of a standard bilo.

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While this bilo may be slightly smaller than a normal one, I still take pride that I made this myself from a coconut in our backyard.

When offered your bowl, it is customary to clap once before receiving it, then shouting ‘BULA!‘ to acknowledge everyone around once you received the bowl. Then you chug it. Afterwards, three claps and an optional ‘maca!‘ (ma-tha) says that you’ve finished your portion and honors the ceremony.

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Memories. Some of us in the background already grogged out.
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While not a part of the ritual, a celebratory dab always adds an extra touch of cheekiness 🙂

And so the night went on and we grogged with each other for the last time.


20th July 2018

0700 local time

I never thought I would say this, but I miss the chickens going off at 3 am.

Our debriefing ride would be waiting for us at the village hall, leaving at 0730. Waking up after last night’s festivities felt like sobering up after a long dream, that the inevitable was coming to pass: we’re leaving Bavu today.

We’re leaving Bavu today.

I miss the roof, where Semi, Johnnie and I would go up to stargaze, or fix the TV antennae for the world cup.

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Evening rooftop view.
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Morning. It’s really not that far off now that I think about it.

I miss the living room, where we’d have our meals in front of the fridge.

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Nice and simple, but forever homely no matter how I look at it.

I miss the open space in the front yard, where we’d horse around and take open air bucket showers in our underwear.

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Buckets where we took our showers on the far right, just below the clothesline. The 3am culprits enjoying their morning rice. The grey toilet all the way across the yard. I miss them.

I miss our room, where Jamie and Johnnie would banter on for hours and where Semi would join in on us.

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Good times.

Before we knew it, we were walking down the road that we came from 4 weeks ago, towards the village hall.

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It just stretches on forever, but someday we knew we had to leave. (Jamie on the left, Johnnie on the right).

Dragging our feet, small talk amongst ourselves, the hall grew closer and closer with each passing moment. That familiar sight, where we normally played touch rugby and all manner of sports, now filled with villagers and volunteers, a blurry sea of people. Blurry? Something touched my face and flowed down it.

Wasn’t R&R supposed to be something to look forward to, after all the work we put into our village? Now only in the crowd of villagers and volunteers, steps away from the ride, I realized I didn’t want to leave. From the depths of my chest, a deep rush of emotion suddenly overcame me, like getting hit by a massive tidal wave, and I realized it. My foster mother realized it too. She looked at me, tears in her eyes, and I let the mine flow. Spasms wracked my body as I started sobbing uncontrollably, holding her tightly in our last embrace.

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Vavai, Father. Lewa, Mother.

“I’ll miss you” was what I made out through our sobbing.

“I’ll miss you too, Tai.”

“Thank you for everything…”

“I’ll never forget you, Johnnie, and Jamie..”

“I promise to return someday, I swear it, I’ll be back, you hear me?!”

I don’t know if I can fulfill it, but I swore on it. I needed to come back home, to return to my other-family away from home.

Saying my final goodbyes to the community that showed me that I could be that 14-year old version of myself without any fear, to bring out my talent and help share it with the people around me, I let the flood loose. Fighting back more tears, I looked back at them as I stepped onto the truck.

We’re leaving Bavu today.

I remember the last sight of my foster family, standing behind the truck as they pulled away. Nothing but footprints and memories I carried with me, but a world of grief and hurt as I left home, possibly for the last time.

I miss them, and until then…

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“Sota-talei”

See you later.

 

 

Quickies, Travel

A midnight in Abu-Dhabi (2)

A 7 hour layover period. One city to explore. This mini-series is a narrative of my time spent in Abu-Dhabi, and is written in chronological order.


WARNING: POST CONTAINS BLURRY PICTURES


Plan for 7 hours:

      • 2 hours Check in and getting through customs
      • 1 hour Stash extra cabin baggage in airport, exchange currency, figure out taxi stand location and fares
      • 4 hours RUN around Abu-Dhabi

Flight landing: 1930 local time

Flight departure: 0230 local time

My target is to explore town then arrive at airport by 0030 local time.


2245  local time

“Bro, do you need a ride?”

Here’s a fact about taxis in Abu-Dhabi:

If you hitched a ride at the airport, your starting fee will be 25 Dirhamswhich is much more expensive than anywhere else in the city, where your starting fee is Dirhams. Given the fact that Abu-Dhabi is a large city, the best way to get around is either by buses, taxis, and cars.

That was the first thing Raja told me as we started our drive. As we pulled into the main road, I told him that my destination was the airport, but we’d take a ‘detour’ around town. Given that the biggest attractions such as Ferrari World and most of the shopping malls were closed by now, this would be a sightseeing tour than anything else.

One of the first things I noticed about Abu-Dhabi city center is the abundance of large buildings, with each one beautifully designed/decorated. The streets are wide and brightly lit, giving the city a metropolitan look, but with plenty of open space that you don’t feel like you’re in just any city (think Hong Kong or NYC, but with an abundance of open space).

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Wide streets give the city a much more open feel, lending to a metropolitan impression.
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The building designs cover a wide variety, each of them more fancy than the last. Imagine them during daylight.
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Striking with their lighting, these buildings light up the night, similar with Hong Kong.

2300  local time

The first destination on our joyride was Al-Maryah island. This island, and others like it, more famous examples being the Palm islands in Dubai, were made with sand as the foundation. With construction started in 2007, the island was only completed later in 2017, and the beauty is self-evident. With a hospital, a finance center, and a massive supermarket (The Galleria), the island has an extensive underground tunnel network that employees working the island can use to get around, clearing the main streets for the visitors above.

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A picture taken along the bridge to Al-Maryah island. Hard to believe that the entire foundation is made of sand.
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Sadly the only barely acceptable picture I have on the island, this one is the hospital. Definitely an unusual choice of lighting, but impossible to miss.

According to Raja, Abu-Dhabi is a hardworking metropolis. Unlike its more renowned sister Dubai, I was initially surprised that Abu-Dhabi wasn’t a party city. Raja puts it this way (or at least from what I can recall):

“In Abu-Dhabi, we don’t party all the time, maybe on some Saturdays, where people go out to the streets and have a good time. Otherwise, we normally spend our free time relaxing in shopping malls. Me? I like good coffee and a movie.”

2320  local time

Speaking of malls, when we arrived at the Marina Mall, I couldn’t help but be impressed. From what I can tell, it is massive on the inside, and according to Raja, it is the place to go to for leisure, and I’m sure that the locals agree too. Shame it was closing by the time I arrived :/

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The mall is actually much larger than what this picture suggests. The lack of people make the entire place feel empty though.
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A ferris wheel outside the largest shopping mall in Abu-Dhabi, why not?

2330  local time

So many attractions in one spot. The Etihad towers, featured in the Fast and Furious 7 (where Dom and Brian drive the Lykan Hypersport through two towers), but sadly with the light pollution, it was nearly impossible for me to get a good picture of these towers.

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Just needs a perfect sunset, two very specific people, and a Lykan Hypersport. Pretty cool though.

The Emirates Palace, a famous, well designed 5-star hotel, but even more gorgeous at night. At this point Raja decided to stop our taxi (and meter), and allowed me to get better shots of these attractions.

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That’s Raja’s taxi in the background. The empty street gives one the impression of just how lively this place can be during the day.
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Just as red as that traffic light 🙂
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Pretty.

The UAE Presidential Palace. The residence of the Khalifa himself, it is nothing short of absolute splendour (at the gates). Due to security reasons and the palace being closed off to all but invited guests, we could not stay and take any pictures. Of course, your cheeky author got a quick, blurry snapshot from the ‘safety’ of the taxi.

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Easily the worst picture, but I’d say worth?

With that being said, I had a flight to catch.

2345 local time

We hit the road, heading straight for the airport. Luckily, there was one last sight to see before I left Abu-Dhabi. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque, easily one of the more beautiful mosques I have seen. Being next to the highway, Raja slowed down for me to take these shots:

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Taxi at 60 km/h, but the mosque is still pretty from afar.
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Raja literally slowed the taxi down to 30 km/h for my shot, but I guess it’s either the phone camera or my skills lacking 😛

0020 local time

Meter fare: 108.50 Dirhams (For reference, my taxi ride from the airport to town cost me 85 Dirhams, and this taxi joyride took Raja and I approximately 1 and a half hours and cost 108.5 Dirhams.)

It was with slight sadness when I stepped out of Raja’s taxi. While at this point in time I have forgotten most of our conversation, I will never forget him being my friendly tour guide. I don’t know if you’ll ever come across this, but thanks for allowing me to me to catch a glimpse of another world not so different from home. You rock.


There ends my one-midnight adventure/joyride in a city not so different from all the places I’ve been to, albeit much more pleasing in aesthetics.

When was the last time you had an adventure like that during your layover? Where was it? Let us know in the comments, and have a great day ❤

 

P.S: Note that names in this post have been changed for anonymity purposes, upon request.

Food, Quickies, Travel

A midnight in Abu-Dhabi (1)

A 7 hour layover period. One city to explore. This mini-series is a narrative of my time spent in Abu-Dhabi, and is written in chronological order.


WARNING: POST CONTAINS BLURRY PICTURES


Plan for 7 hours:

    • 2 hours Check in and getting through customs
    • 1 hour Stash extra cabin baggage in airport, exchange currency, figure out taxi stand location and fares
    • 4 hours RUN around Abu-Dhabi

Flight landing: 1930 local time


With extra cabin bags stowed away in the airport services and armed with 300 Dirhams (equivalent of 81.70 USD or 64.20 GB), I set out to find a taxi that would take me to town at 9 pm (delays :/).

The first thing that hit me was the blazing 34°C night. Even with the majority a lifetime spent living in a tropical country (Malaysia), sweat escaped my pores within seconds, drenching me within minutes. That being said, stepping into any enclosed environment of any kind was relief, which in my case was pure elation when an airport taxi pulled up next to me.

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The people here drive on the right side of the road, similar to the US. The speed limit on all taxis on the freeway is 100 km/h, which is monitored by the fare meter. Any time the driver exceeds the speed limit, they will be warned; any more than 3 warnings will result in the fare being nullified (and the passenger getting a free ride consequentially).
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A bridge I spotted on my way to town. This was to be the first of many architectural wonders I’d see in Abu-Dhabi.

Normally, I’d head straight for the city center, but I needed dinner first. While not the smartest idea, I asked to be taken to a place where the locals frequented. A 15 minute ride ended up outside a small array of shops/offices, which was on the outskirts of the city. I kicked myself mentally after I got out for not asking the driver to take me straight to the city center. But to be fair, the fare was rather expensive (87 dirhams) and I’d much rather not spend all my money on taxi rides. Making do with the situation, I walked up to the Arab restaurant (below, with a green sign) and asked to see their menu.

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The layout of these shop-lots is very similar to south-east asia.

They weren’t serving any more food, I was stumped, and so other options had to be considered. Where most Arab restaurants close their kitchens by 10 pm (which was when I arrived), their Indian counterparts are still open and serving customers. Walking around a corner, I ended up outside a tiny Indian restaurant, and was invited in by the owners.

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Tiny it may be, but don’t let the look fool you. This restaurant does some pretty good curry.

With a glance through the menu, I came to the conclusion that an average meal in a shop like this would amount to about ~10 dirhams, which meant that I had plenty to spend. Going with the chef’s recommendation, I got myself a southern Indian-style beef curry, which came with a side of salad, and a plate of roti to go with, which cost a total of 7.50 dirhams.

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Indian-style beef curry (bottom right), salad (middle left, eaten with salt, pepper, and a light lemon dressing), dhal (middle right), and roti (bottom left). Water is free, in containers on the table itself (top left).

The salad was simple but very flavourful, with the salt and pepper working wonders in combination with the raw onion, and the lemon making the salad more interesting, with the different flavours contrasting each other. However, the curry was what stole the show. The first spoonful was warm, with the typical Indian curry characteristics: heavy on curry powder, with a hint of cumin, zero sweetness. The surprise factor kicks in after a few seconds: a kick unlike any other curry I have ever tasted, a burn out of nowhere that literally infuses your taste buds with fire. I choked.

A second tasting, this time with the roti, and I start to notice the flavours through the burn: staranise, beef stock, onions, and more curry powder. With my third helping, the burn had almost completely disappeared, replaced by a warm, gentle tingling sensation on the tongue that didn’t numb, and after that point I really enjoyed the curry for what it was: a nice, simple work of Indian culinary art.

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My kudos to these two for the great food, and for maintaining the restaurant as a popular spot for the local Indians. You guys are awesome.
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These two (Jovy and John) joined in just after I arrived. Really nice folk to chat with.

With my food finished, I chatted with my fellow patrons, Jovy and John (above) on how best to get to town since the taxi driver pretty much dropped me on the outskirts of town. Turns out, we were about 10 minutes drive from the heart of the city itself, and you could walk along the road and get picked up by a local taxi (not an airport taxi, which is far more expensive) within minutes.

Thanking them, I left the restaurant and started down the main road, opposite the Khalifa University main campus, with my left hand stuck up in the typical hitch-hiker gesture (thumbs up if you get it :D) .

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That’s the Khalifa University main campus. Too bad my poor phone camera couldn’t keep up 😦
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Just next to the campus, this intersection goes in many directions. Twas a long walk to cross.

5 minutes of walking, past the university, and past a very complicated, busy intersection, I came by a bus stop where I decided to camp for a taxi. Admittedly, from what little I saw of Abu-Dhabi, I could draw many parallels with Kuala Lumpur, albeit with Abu-Dhabi being a more futurised/optimised version of my hometown. I wonder if-

PIIIINNN PIIIIINN PIIIIIIIIINNNN!!!

Turning around, a cab (Toyota Camry) pulled up beside me, and the right door opened, revealing a smiling Indian man.

“Bro, do you need a ride?”

2245 local time


To be continued