Sunday, March 31, 2013

RTW Trip: Day 28-29 (3/23-24): Georgetown, Penang

Day 28-29 – A Very Different Georgetown

I’ve been to Georgetown many times. My sister went there for college. I went there to visit her (and help her move in and out her first two years). I went to Georgetown again, but this was a very different Georgetown. This Georgetown was very, very far away from the hill in Washington DC, but still quite fun. Batu Ferringghi (our last stop) was only 30 minutes away from the central part of Georgetown, the main city on Penang Island. Georgetown was an old Portuguese and then English colony in Malaysia, and it still holds those influences, especially the British Colonial architecture.

We reached our hotel around 12:00, the Bayview Georgetown, a famous old hotel in the area that is still undergoing renovations to make it more appealing to customers in the 21st Century. The hotel is located near the old part of Georgetown, which contains most of the sites to see in the city, but also contains the poorer, older section of the city. Penang is also known for its great food, mostly Nyonya infused Malaysian Food, as well as its famous night market hawker centres. We decided to split our four main meals in Georgetown between two hawker centres and two Nyonya-style restaurants. For our first meal, we went to the New World Hawker Centre, located in central Georgetown. It was very reminiscent of the main Hawker Centres in Singapore, including the fact that it was only open during the day. The Hawker fare was mostly lunch style food (noodles, flat noodles, fried rice, roti canai – you know, lunch food). This was a little sad because we aren’t really into that style of food other than a few select dishes (Roti Canai, Chow Kuey Teow), but the food was still quite good. Also, like most Hawker Centres, the alcohol was relatively cheap.

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel to relax for a bit, as my Mom was quite tired (mostly after her morning walk on the beach at Batu Ferringghi), and the Georgetown heat was bearing down on us full-bore. After a couple hours, when the air was cooling and the temperature dropped a good 10 degrees, we headed back out for a little walking tour of Georgetown. We passed some sites close to the hotel that were good photo opportunities: the high court and parliament of Georgetown – a large building built in an almost Mediterranean style; The St. George’s Church, a small but beautiful white Anglican church, the Masjid Kapitan Keling, a large sprawling mosque, and the entrance to the Khong See, a hidden Chinese temple tucked inside a busy block of road. The walk there and back took a good hour and a half, and while we were both quite drained by the end of it (you can’t escape the humidity forever), it was quite a nice introduction to Georgetown’s history.

Our place for dinner was Mama’s Nyonya Café, a small mom-and-pop restaurant located more in the modern center of Georgetown. We easily got a cab there as there is a cab stand outside the hotel. The restaurant was hard to find as the cab driver didn’t really know where it was (something that happens far too often with cab drivers in Malaysia). I can’t blame the driver because the restaurant is hard to find, with a small sign outside is tiny place on the block. The restaurant itself was small, with just five tables, but filled with large families eating what looked to be delicious food. Their menu was very familiar to my Mom and myself, having seen similar dishes at Nyonya in NYC too many times to count. Wanting to go in a slightly different direction, we ordered Wild Boar Rendang, instead of beef. We also ordered Chicken Kopitam, another Nyonya staple, and Assam Fish. All three dishes had excellent curries at their base, with distinct flavors. I usually don’t like chicken, but the slightly lemongrass-infused chicken curry was my favorite dish of the night. The Wild Boar Rendang was a little tough (wild boar generally is), but the curry was as close to the Rendang we love so much back home. The portions weren’t big, but then the low prices made the price to portion size ratio more than acceptable.

When we left Mama Nyonya, a restaurant that my Mom researched and wanted to go to from the time we started planning our days in Penang, we had to find a cab back to the Bayview. This isn’t usually a difficult exercise, but in Penang, hailing a cab is a precarious idea, especially at night. There are cabs in Georgetown. I know because I have taken a ride in one of them. But in trying to find a cab to get us back to the hotel, I doubted my past experiences. There are just no cabs available at night in Georgetown, none. For a city that is one of the biggest in Malaysia (not to mention the island of Penang being the 2nd biggest tourist destination), I find it baffling to see the abject lack of cabs in the city. We finally got one by walking to the main road, and accepting his inflated price to take us back (most cabs won’t go by meter), and we reached back to the hotel.

My Mom was quite tired, but since it was only about 10:00, I was definitely not, and decided to scout out our dinner spot for the next night, the Red Garden Hawker Center, located just two blocks away from the hotel. The Red Garden is unlike any Hawker Center I have been to. It shares similarities to the Long Beach Café in Batu Ferringghi, as it is a large expanse of tables inside four walls of stalls. However, this is a larger area, with a more decorative, party feel. The real difference, though, is it is really a trendy night spot at night, with a stage and live music each night. The whole experience was wonderful. My plan was to sit with a roti canai and a beer, but they didn’t have a roti canai stand. Instead, I got Octopus with Special Sauce from East Coast Seafood, a seafood stand that is a staple in any respected night Hawker Center. The music was good, the beer was good, the food was great. The whole package was excellent, a great way to spend a night in Georgetown. Most restaurants in Georgetown close early (Mama Nyonya closed at 10:00, on a Friday night), but the Red Garden closes well after midnight (when I left). It actually got more crowded as the night wore on. Just a fantastic setting.


The next day in Penang marked many different occasions. Not only was it Palm Sunday, but it marked the 1-month anniversary of my trip beginning. Four weeks of travel, of continents and airlines, of passport stamps and languages, of cabs and meats, of ocean breezes and blistering heat. Finally, it marked the last day of true sightseeing until I leave for Jaipur in India on the 7th of April. To commemorate all these different occasions, we arranged quite a hectic schedule of sites and meals to do on our last day. We had two times set in stone, mass at 6:00 and the tour of the Cheong Fat Tze palace at 11:00.

We had two different places to see before the tour of the Cheong Fat Tze palace. Both are walking distance from the hotel, but because we got started a little late (9:45), we first took a cab to the Khoo Kongsee, a Chinese temple off of the road that we walked through the previous evening. The Khoo Kongsee is one main building in the center of an open square. Because of the shortage of time, we didn’t take much time to really find out what the significance of the Khoo Kongsee was, but went into the main building. The temple is exquisitely ornate, with beautiful work on the columns and ceiling outside. The inside of the temple was pretty much the same. The cost of going there is pretty trivial, and it didn’t need much time to see all of it, but it really is a nice gem deep inside Old Georgetown.

The next stop was the Perikan Mansion, an old large house (or, I guess, mansion) built back in the early 1900’s, still designed and arranged in that old style. The building includes a jewelry museum that includes many other ornate, delicate pieces (crowns, clothing) that are as rich as the jewelry there. The mansion itself was decorated nicely, and gave a good glimpse into the deep Colonial English influence in style and architecture of Georgetown. The house is large, and we hurriedly did as much of it as we could in the limited time we had and after a nice sprint to the Cheong Fat Tze, we reached just as the tour was starting.

The Cheong Fat Tze Mansion is one of the more famous sites in Georgetown. Today, it is run as a guesthouse that anyone can stay at, but its previous life was the main mansion in Penang for Cheong Fat Tze, a Chinese born businessman named the “Rockefeller of the East” by the Rockefeller’s themselves. Because it is a running guesthouse, the only way to see it outside of staying there is to go for one of their two guided tours at 11:00 or 3:30. The tour group was quite large, and the tour guide was quite good. She spoke great English and was a really good guide, telling nice, humorous stories, keeping us really engaged during the entire one hour tour. The house was extremely well restored, as it was apparently bought in 1989 in tatters after it was abandoned by Cheong Fat Tze’s last son (he had 8 wives in 8 countries). Now the house is supposedly back to what it was during Cheong Fat Tze’s time (of course there is now running water and air conditioning). The main highlight of the house is a series of panels on the top floor built in an old Chinese style of cutting up colored bowls and using the shards to glue together beautiful depictions. When you realize what they are up close, it is quite stunning, as is most of the house in general.

After we finished the tour we headed back to the hotel, located conveniently across the street from the Cheong Fat Tze, we took a little siesta, escaping the overbearing Penang heat at its worst. We came back out near 1:30 to go for lunch to Ivy’s Nyonya Café, another small mom-and-pop Nyonya jointrated #2 on TripAdvisor in Penang. Their lunch menu comes in a set menu or a select series of small dishes or ‘side dishes’ (essentially smaller real dishes) of traditional Nyonya food. We ordered about four of these smaller dishes and they were all quite good. The Beef Rendang was extremely spicy which kind of ruined the otherwise tasty curry and meat. The fish and prawns were well made, as was the chicken kopitam, quickly becoming one of my favorite Nyonya dishes. After another long search for a cab, we finally got one and were on our way to our final spot, the final tourist destination of Part I of my trip, the Kok Lek Si Temple, at the base of Penang Hill.

The drive up to the base of the temple was reminiscent of the drive up to the base of Table Mountain. The view from the bottom was somewhat similar (though Cape Town is just more aesthetically perfect than Penang, or any other city). The temple itself is a large series of connected buildings slotted along the façade of the hill. The bottom parts of the temple grounds were just larger versions of the Khoo Kongsee temple. The real treat is what it at the top of the temple ground. Accessible by stairs or by ‘slanted elevator’ (a funicular), the top temple is houses a giant statue of some god inside a coliseum like building with tall columns. It is quite a spectacular building from afar, and almost as good from up close. Penang Hill houses many different sites (mostly nature related), and the Kek Lok Si temple is the only one we chose to see, and I think we chose the best one.

We reached back at the hotel rather and took a quick nap before leaving for mass. The mass itself was eventful mainly because of its length. With the inclusion of the Passion as the gospel for Palm Sunday, the mass is generally longer than a normal one, but despite this priest not saying a sermon, the mass still took an hour and a half. That really isn’t fair given the heat. At least by the time we escaped the clutches of that rambling mass it was dark and cooler. Penang gets quite nice after dark in terms of the weather. We headed back to the hotel for a quick shower and rest before we left for our final meal in Southeast Asia.

Because of my great experience the previous night and my Mom’s regret for not coming, we decided to go back to the Red Garden for dinner. We arrived around nine, and while the place was still full, it was noticeably less full than it was near midnight the night before. Now, at first I chalked that up to today being a Sunday versus yesterday being a Saturday, but as I soon figured out that the real reason was because the Red Garden is just a better spot the later it gets. The music gets better, the crowd gets better, the drink-to-food ratio gets higher. Anyway, we ordered House Special Clams and blackened mackerel. The mackerel was fried nicely, with a light BBQ sauce, but it didn’t hold a candle to the clams, which were excellent. I shared a bottle of Asahi with my Mom (and by bottle, I mean I had 4/5ths of it), and not before long the music started. It was everything the previous night was, but now with more food. After we finished that course, we went back to get more clams (they were that good), and I ordered lamb satay. Now, I was a little skeptical of the lam satay because such combinations always sound better coming out of your mouth than they taste coming in, but damn was that lamb satay excellent. The lamb by itself was extremely well cooked, so much so that I didn’t even want to put the peanut sauce by the end of it. The night ended with a smaller bottle of Tiger, and some regrets about not ordering another lamb satay. Lambs are so cute, but when I eat something like that, I could care less because it is so damn good.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

RTW Trip: Day 26 & 27 (3/21-22) - Batu Ferringhi, Penang

Day 26 & 27 – Danny Says Relax

We had to get up rather early for our flight to Penang because of Kuala Lumpur’s terrible traffic. Of course, the traffic wasn’t that bad, and we got to the LCCT rather early, the last place I would go early to. The flight was uneventfully short, lasting just 45 minutes. Soon enough, we landed in Penang airport, descending out of the sea into the lake-side runway. The airport, like any I’ll go to on this trip, is better than the LCCT. Penang itself is a slightly dirtier, but more traditional, version of Phuket, and the 45 minute drive to Batu Ferringhi beach was a nice introduction to the coastline of Penang island. We reached our hotel on the beach, centrally located on Jalan Batu Ferringhi, checked in, and decided that with nothing much do to in Batu Ferringhi but relax on the beach and eat that we would do nothing but relax on the beach an eat.

After not using TripAdvisor or Yelp much in Kuala Lumpur, which was probably a mistake, I decided to almost exclusively use it. The problem, though, was that the locations of the restaurants in Batu Ferringhi aren’t really exact. All of them are off of Jalan Batu Ferringhi (after two days, I’m not totally sure there aren’t any other roads in the town), but that road is about 4 km, long, so it is necessary to know whether it is walking distance or not. We decided to go to Helena Café, a Nyonya Malaysian restaurant, which was located about half a km away. When we went, it was closed, which was a surprise given that they claimed on TripAdvisor that their hours were 10AM-11PM. The café, however, was located next to two other open establishments, and we chose ‘The Living Room’, a Malaysian restaurant right next door. The restaurant was decorated a little too commercially, which made us a little nervous about the quality of the food. To no one’s surprise, we ordered Beef Rendang and Shrimp Asam, two Malaysian staples. Both were good, which was a nice surprise given our reservations. The Rendang was different than any other but still quite good. Overall, given that I had no idea what this restaurant was about, it ended up being quite good.

We had a late lunch (started around 2:00), and while Penang was noticeable cooler than Kuala Lumpur, it was still burning hot outside. We were both quite tired after getting up at 6:15, so we decided to head back and take a nap. I would usually feel bad napping in the middle of the day in an exciting new city, but Penang is a place that is mostly asleep till the night anyway, as people are either at the beach, touring the island, or asleep. We chose the final option for a few hours, and because I foresaw a rather late night, it was welcome. 

We got up around 5:00, and though the sun was still out, it was starting to get slightly breezy which made the weather quite perfect. The hotel was located right on the beach, with a pool/garden area in the backyard and the sand immediately behind. We chose to lay in the hotel grounds, but with a view of the sand, the water, the trees, the hills in the distance, and the setting sun. It was quite a beautiful sight that got increasingly so as we approached sunset at 7:30. The beach itself was quite empty, but many people were on speedboats or parasailing in the water behind. Honestly, the Batu Ferringhi beach is exactly how I envision the perfect beach. Not too crowded, not too large, not too much distance between road (or in this case, grass) and water, and with a nice backdrop. It still didn’t match Goa with its beach-front shacks, but it was quite close.

After some time on the beach observing the gorgeous orange sun say goodbye, we were ready to head back inside and get ready for our night out in Batu Ferringhi. Batu Ferringhi isn’t known as a truly hip night spot, but it definitely has a late night scene. The only difference between Batu Ferringhi at night and other beach-side areas is much of the excitement and environment of Batu Ferringhi’s late night scene is shopping. The Batu Ferringhi night market is famous, and for good reason as the town really resides along that one km stretch of road that at night turns into the market, with stalls aligning either side of the streets, creating covered passageways of capitalism.

The night market also contains two hawker centers, but compared to hawker centers in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, these are more enticing. The main center, Long Beach Café, is a large square with stalls on the four sides, and a covered seating area in the middle. Long Beach Café has all the usual hawker fare, but many stalls serving restaurant-type food, stalls of fresh seafood on ice, cooked the way you want. The Long Beach Café is a staple of the Batu Ferringhi experience, and its standing shows with just how efficient it is. Each table in the middle has a number, a number you tell the workers at the stalls so they bring your food to you. There are waiters prancing around, waiting for you to order drinks. They have wait staff to clean and wipe tables in a quick pace. The whole system is highly streamlined, professionally done; a surprise in a setting that is usually selling in unprofessional, authentic environment.

Night Market Food, nothing was better.

We ordered three dishes, a sizzling prawn dish, a black pepper squid dish, and a grilled seabass. The best dish was black pepper squid, which didn’t taste like any other black pepper dish that I’ve tried, but was excellently cooked. The grilled seabass didn’t have much flavor on its own, but it came with two tasty dipping sauces. The prawns were large, plentiful, well cooked and quite delicious. The sauce was a little sweet for my taste, but my Mom loved it. The other advantage of eating at Long Beach Café (or any of the other hawkers) is the relatively cheap alcohol. Alcohol is taxed heavily in Malaysia making it be sold in bars at prices that wouldn’t be out of place in the US. Somehow, the Hawker Center gets away with giving beer at more normal prices. The whole experience at Long Beach was great, a welcome hit after some less-than-stellar experiences at Hawker Centers in Malaysia.

My Mom returned to the hotel to listen to some live music in the lobby. I was still hungry, and I found a place that would allow me to do what I dreamed of doing when I added Malaysia to my trip: have a beer and a Roti Canai at night. I can live off of Roti Canai, and despite it being primarily a breakfast food in Malaysia, all the hawker stands have at least one stall selling Roti Canai. Long Beach Café closes at 10:30 (odd, given how the night market area closes at 12 at the earliest), but right next to it is the I Love U Café, which is essentially the same concept as Long Beach, though not as reputed. I headed back to I Love U and sat down next to many different tables enjoying a hukkah or two. I ordered my Roti Canai, ordered an Asahi beer (my first taste of that Japanese staple – I’m looking forward to Japan even more). Both were excellent, but just the fact that I was sitting thousands of miles away from home, in an open air hawker center with the sea breeze coming in, and a Roti Canai on one side of me and a beer in the other. 

Today was more of the same. In many ways, it was a sequel, and not a sequel that improves on the first, but that outright copies it, much like Hangover 2. Today, we went to the same restaurants, ate somewhat the same food, went outside to sit on the beach and read around the same time. We even gave our dirty clothes to be laundered around the same time. It was a carbon copy day, and damn was it sweet.

The one difference may have been that today we were able to have breakfast at the hotel, instead of no food on Air Asia. The breakfast wasn’t great, but it was welcome, as I had my first omelet since leaving home. After breakfast, we went for a walk on the beach. The weather was dark, but the rain was held at bay (literally), and because of the cloud cover it was a bit cooler than previous days. The beach was idyllic, but the sand was so soft that it was quite a struggle to walk that much. In that way, Batu Ferringhi beach is more for show than blow.

Around 1:00, we headed out for lunch, back to The Living Room. In fairness, we were originally planning to hit Helena’s Café, which was open today after its token day off yesterday (all restaurants in Batu Ferringhi have one day off a week, I guess to spread the wealth). Sadly, despite its high ratings, the menu seemed a little boring, and we went next door. It is quite a compliment for one of my parents to go to the same restaurant twice in any city, and it is more stunning given our initial ambivalence with The Living Room before we tasted the food the previous day. Continuing the theme of a sequel, we ordered the Beef Rendang, but we went in a new direction with the second dish, ordering XXXXX. The rendang was as good as it was the previous day, and the XXXX was excellent. I really can’t recommend The Living Room enough. 

There was one new event that occurred when we were eating: it rained. This by itself isn’t strange, as it is cloudy at some point during the day almost every day in this part of the world. No, what was surprising was that this was going to be the end of one of the great streaks of all time. No, not the Heat’s 24 (and counting) game win streak*, but the fact that I had not had to experience rain at any point during my trip. It rained a total of four times during my trip, and I was asleep, in a plane on the ground, and in a bus for all of those times. Every other day was clear. It has been an amazing stroke of good fortune to have such accommodating weather, and it had to end sooner or later. Well, it finally did. Of course, that particular rain passed before we finished our meal, but the rain was off and on throughout the afternoon and when I went to pick the clothes from the laundry it was raining lightly.

·         **quick note on the Heat streak: I guess it is exciting for hardcore NBA fans, but this is the worst-case scenario we all thought of when LeBron and Bosh went to Miami, that they would roll over the entire league. In a way, I guess this is better than the alternative: months of the Heat being a very good team and everyone discounting any bad stretch because they would turn it on in the playoffs. Basically, this is exactly why this should not have happened. Somehow, no one seems to care that these guys hijacked the league and ruined its competitive balance.**

We were laying by the ocean in the evening when the skies got increasingly overcast, and the rumble of thunder got increasingly audible. The second I saw my first streak of lightning illuminate the clouds above, I convinced my Mom to retreat to the confines of the open-air (ceiling covered) veranda inside the lobby that looks out over the beach. From there, we witnessed a storm without the rain, as there were heavy winds accompanied by a symphony of thunder and lightning. 

After the storm passed, we headed out for dinner to Long Beach Café (of course), where we ordered one repeat dish (the black pepper squid). We doubled down on the black pepper, ordering Black Pepper King Prawns, and then finally ordered a stingray, prepared in a similar fashion to the seabass from yesterday. All three dishes were good which was no surprise. What was was the fact that the two black pepper dishes didn’t really taste similar at all. Both were good, but quite different. It was another good meal at the Long Beach Café, which is about as perfect as a Hawker center could be. 

This was at close to closing, so it was rather empty, but needless to say it is loudly filled during normal eating hours.

To finish the day, I returned to the I Love U Café. Once again, I ordered a beer and a roti canai. I’m not one to change from a good thing. The only difference today is I was able to get the Wi-Fi to work. One of the hidden wonders of Southeast Asia is how many public places have Wi-Fi. Just like the US, the coffee shops have, but in Southeast Asia (and this includes Vietnam and Cambodia, poorer countries than Thailand and Malaysia), at least 75% of the restaurants I went to had free Wi-Fi. Many malls had it as well. It is truly impressive to see how pervasive Wi-Fi has become. None of these places charged extra for it. None of these places even flaunted it. The US has a long way to catch up in that respect. 

I returned back to the hotel around 12:45, ready to call it a night after another satisfying day in Batu Ferringhi. I will probably combine Batu Ferringhi with Georgetown (the capital and actual major city on Penang Island), and if I do Penang will most likely get a place in my Top-20 cities. I failed to mention this, but Phnom Penh probably will as well. I don’t think there are many better compliments I can give a city than saying that I did close to the exact same thing two straight days and I would not have to be convinced too hard to sign up for a third.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

RTW Trip: Day 25 (3/20) - Kuala Lumpur

Day 25 – Kuala Lumpur: Better than a City Only an Explorer Could Love

So, Kuala Lumpur was slightly disappointing yesterday. Part of that was due to not having a real structured plan of what to do, and hitting .333 for meals. Today, we had a solid plan. Having a solid plan usually helps make a day better. Overnight, my Mom and I worked for an hour to come up with a plan to utilize the hop-on, hop-off bus and the various sights, built around a 3:30 tea time at the KL Tower. The plan was built around leaving at around 9:00, and we ended up leaving at 10:00, which, thankfully, wasn’t a portent of the rest of the day to come.

Our first stop out of KL Sentral was the Lake Perdana park area of Kuala Lumpur, a beautiful quadrant of the city tucked in the Southwest corner. There are four main attractions in the park, the Deer, Orchid, Butterfly and Bird parks, and they are all located in walking distance from each other. We chose to go to the Orchid and Bird parks, because the Orchid was my Mom’s pick and the Bird was my pick. I took some gratification in picking the better of the two, though my Mom’s pick lost by default. The orchid park was beautiful, but it took some imagination to see it, as it wasn’t Orchid season, so the idyllic walkways and towers were simply green instead of a palate of different orchids. The Bird park, however, is always in season.

I came in having the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore as a frame of reference, and the KL Bird Park probably wasn’t better, but it had a lot of comparative advantages. There wasn’t the giant range of birds in the KL Park that was present in Singapore, and there weren’t as many different sections, so it was a little more muddled, but the KL Park isn’t about being a zoo, it is about being a safari. Most of the bird park is trapped under a wire aviary high up, so the birds are free to roam around the park freely. The real treat was the ridiculous amount of peacocks that were just roaming around the park, coming right up to visitors and congregating in groups in select areas. We were able to find one peacock in full wide-tail form, which was a welcome sight, but considering there were 30-40 peacocks, the chances we saw one like that were pretty good. The rest of the bird park contained some highlights like Ostriches and Emus, and a large walk-in parrot section, where the more friendly parrots were allowed to fly freely as well. The park is well worth a visit.

With as many peacocks as this place had, it was a statistical impossibility to not get a picture with its tail feathers' fanned out

Since we started late, it was already about noon when we finished the bird park, and the rest of our midday plans took place across town in the city center, so we got a cab to go across. The traffic in midday isn’t too bad, so the ride was quite quick. Our destination was the Suria KLCC, the same location that marked the pinnacle of yesterday’s adventure in Kuala Lumpur. The sky was a bit clearer today, so I was able to get better pictures of the Petronas Towers. Despite the fact that the towers still don’t seem as tall as they really are (remember, before the game of ‘Can You Top This?’ started between Hong Kong, China & Dubai with Taipei 101, this was the tallest building in the world), the Petronas Towers are unique in their floral base, a quasi-mosque design. The building really starts to grow on you after a while.

Lunch was at one of the only Malaysian restaurants in the Suria KLCC, Madame Kwan’s (there is a fast-casual café version open in the mall concourse called Miss Kwan’s, which I thought was a cute touch). Yesterday, it was about half-full, but that was around 2:30. This was around 12:30, better known as normal lunchtime, so it was packed. We had to wait about 15 minutes before getting a table. We ordered two dishes. One is a staple of our meals, Beef Rendang, and the other was a prawn dish whose name escapes me as I write this a day later (that’s right, ever since I stopped having meals alone, I’ve started writing these more and more in the following days). Both were good. The rending was interesting, because again it wasn’t much like the Beef Rendang available at any Malaysian restaurant in the US. The rending at both yesterday’s place and Madam Kwan’s used almost a shredded beef concept instead of the tough, but delicious, thick beef pieces used back home. Both also were a lot drier. I don’t know which one I prefer more, but I think if I had the Malaysian version as many times as I’ve had the US one at Nynonya in NYC, I would lean towards the Malaysian one.

After lunch we had about two hours to kill before tea, and not much to do. There was talk of going to Bukit Bintang (the trendy shopping area just south of KLCC), but my Mom was a little tired to walk, and considering the 35 degree (~95 Fahrenheit) temperature, coupled with the ~80% humidity, I was in no position to try to convince her to do otherwise. Instead, she went around Suria KLCC, and went back to Isetan, while I set up shop at Starbucks, which had WiFi, and got my first frappucinno since I left the US. I’m kind of addicted to those damn whip-creamed topped works of the devil, and while I wouldn’t characterize me as having been through withdrawal, it was a welcome treat to have one, and have it for less than 4.50. We met up around 2:45 at the main atrium of the mall to head to the Menara KL (KL Tower – a CN Tower type structure). It took a while to meet up because our proposed meeting spot was obstructed by a large showcase on the ground floor, but we eventually found each other rested and ready to go.

The walk over the Menara KL wasn’t long, and it allowed us to see another part of the city that impressed us. The blocks between the Suria KLCC and the Menara KL are littered with bars and bistros that wouldn’t be misplaced in any respected major city in any country. This all highlights that there is nothing abjectly wrong with Kuala Lumpur. Anyway, we reached the Menara KL, took the complimentary mini-bus up the hill to the base (the hill explains why despite being shorter, it seems from afar that the Menara KL is taller than the Petronas Towers). Because we were slightly early for the 3:30 start time to tea, we decided to do the Observation Deck first (the tea ticket buys you entrance to the deck as well). This kind of highlights the great deal inherent in going for lunch/tea/dinner at the Menara KL. The entrance ticket to the observation deck in 38 ringgit (~12 dollars), while tea is 50 (~17), so for five extra dollars you get a free tea in a revolving restaurant. The deals are similar for the other meals (though those are more expensive, but have a lot more food). The observation deck is like any other. The view is really quite good, and gives a great education in just how big KL is. As far as you can see in almost every direction are large buildings. Many are apartment buildings in suburbs of KL, but they blend right in with the rest of the city.

After a while, we headed up the one floor for tea (another perk for doing a meal there, the floor where the meal is served is one floor above the observation deck). The restaurant was about ¼ full, which made us feel quite smart, part of a club that knew the math showing why this was a good deal. In fairness to those who just go to the observation deck, the food at tea is not very good. The lunch and dinner food are reviewed decently well, but the food for tea is average. There are some nice sandwhiches, and in their spread of desserts a solid half are decent. The real shame is the only thing offered as part of the deal to drink is basic coffee or basic tea, no frills or alternate types. Still, it was a treat to sit back and spin around the city of KL 1,300 feet in the air (when you can’t the elevated hill the building is built on). The food was a 5/10, but the atmosphere, the view, the whole non-culinary experience was a solid 9.

After our visit to the Menara KL, we took a cab over to the Merdaka Square, which we had briefly seen at night yesterday. Merdaka Square (Deteran Merdaka in Malaysian) is a grassy square that is surrounded by government buildings, and houses the largest flag-pole I have ever seen, and probably will ever see. The flag there is known for being where Malaysia officially signaled its independence in 1957, lowering the Union Jack and raising its flag. The square’s main highlight is the flagpole (so tall that it is a challenge to get a picture with the whole pole from inside the square), but the XXXX Building on its East side, which is currently the Supreme Court of Malaysia, is also a stunning architectural site. In honesty, all the sides of the square contain good views, and it furthered my impression that KL really cares to be a green city. I haven’t seen many cities so big and so dense that have as many large expanses of greenery and open space as Kuala Lumpur. Merdaka Square was a point of transport for us as well, as we were going to go on the Hop-on, Hop-off from there (we got off at Merdaka Square yesterday), and we beat the bus there by a good fifteen minutes. I chose to spend the time lying on the side-wall of a fountain, which while comfortable, drew the ire of a security guard. Of course, the man lying on the side-wall of the adjacent fountain did not. No sooner did I prop up to appease the guard did the bus come by, picking us up to complete the circle around KL that we started yesterday.

The police guard was not a fan of this pose.

The bus provided a nice escape from walking, and many a picture opportunity, but we definitely did the more impressive half of the tour yesterday. The only real highlight from the north half was the Kuala Lumpur Cultural Center, a beautifully designed building, and being far enough from the Petronas Tower to get a real nice picture of it. We got off at Chinatown, which is like every other Chinatown in the world, only even busier. Seeing another Chinatown that looked like all the other Chinatowns made me real curious to see if China looks similar everywhere. It would be really strange to see China not resemble the standard Chinatown if all the Chinatowns resemble each other. Anyway, my Mom had some specific shopping, and I had another specific goal, to not shop and get a beer. We both accomplished our respective tasks and met at 8:00. We met in the heart of Chinatown, on Petaling Street, which at night doesn’t resemble a street at all, but is instead a bustling night market, a bargain hunter’s paradise. Not only are there the usual night market bounties, like knockoff bags and soccer jerseys, but had loads and loads of Beats by Dre, and Nike and Adidas gear. The real treat of Petaling Street, other than getting good practice in the art of bargaining, was just being around this incredible maw of people of all races and ethnicities in one confined area, with Chinese lanterns overhead.

We soon reached our restaurant, the Old China Café, situated on a quiet side street of Petaling. The Café is aptly named, as the décor inside is, well, old, with antique paintings adorning the walls, and antique fridges housing the beverages. The menu is in Nyonya style, a Chinese-infused version of Malaysian food. We were both really looking forward to this meal as this is the type of food we were used to at the Malaysian Restaurants back home. We ordered beef rending, surprise, and Asam Prawn, which was prawns in a spicy, tangy sauce. Both were good, cooked in a familiar style. The rendang was the most similar to the rendang at home as any I’ve had. The restaurant is in frommer’s and highly ranked in TripAdvisor, and to no surprise all the patrons when we were there were white, aka: foreigners, who probably learned about the place through the same avenues. We left the Old China Café filled and content, and we heading back to Petaling Street to resume our bargain hunting. By the time we were ready to leave, our bags were full, hopefully not too much because we don’t have too much room in the bags that really matter (the suitcases). We took a cab back to the hotel in a far better mood than we did just 24 hours earlier. Kuala Lumpur still hasn’t reached ‘great city’ status, but as I expected, the city is better when you actually know how to get around, when you have a solid plan, and when you don’t jaunt around aimlessly like a fish.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.