Sunday 31 March 2013

Las Carretas, ay caramba!

Las Carretas serviette (CNB 2013)

Las Carretas (The Wagon in Spanish), serves authentic Mexican food with a selection of steaks, ribs, stews, and seafood. Touted as the best Mexican cuisine in Malaysia, I do agree. But then I have not been to any other eateries that serve this cuisine, so ... don't take my word. Go find out for yourself. We went to the branch in Ampang recently, and for me it was my second foray. Or is it forage? Whatever.

The ambiance I suppose tries to emulate that in a Mexican cantina with the decor of typical sombreros and colourful capes. I can't remember if the music was Mexican, but if it was I would have remembered, right? Anyway, let me get on with the food. The starter was tortilla fritas (chips) and salsa dip - nice to pick on while waiting for the main course. M had taco (ok lah) of two fried corn tortilla filled with beef, lettuce, cheese, and sour cream, etc. + arroz (Mexican rice) and beans, while B had beef fajitas (the carnivore strikes again) with the accompanying condiments and tortilla. What did I have?

Tortilla chips & salsa for starters (CNB 2013)

Taco (CNB 2013)

The beef of the fajitas (CNB 2013) 

Don't ask, but I just felt like a pasta, not a traditional Mexican main course. Italian in a Mexican restaurant? No problem - they had the meanest spaghetti vongole. It was the hottest meal I have ever had in my life! I was on fire! Wipe the smirk off your face, I know there are seashells involved. But I suspect the chef was probably trying to warn me to not order non-Mexican next time. Will there be a next time? 

I guess there is likely to be a next time because the dessert was to die for! The highly recommended house specialty Boca chica* is simply deeelicious. It is a layered hazelnut-coffee-flavoured sponge cake with a side serving of vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce and a dash of cinnamon. The taste is not unlike tiramisu, quite Italian in fact. (The chef will probably not like this last remark, but hey, I am a customer ...)

Spaghetti vongole (CNB 2013)

Boca chica (CNB 2013)
*Boca Chica is also a town in the Dominican Republic
29 March 2013

Friday 29 March 2013

Kota Belud: The Tamu ... and Looking for the Bajau Horsemen

Kota Belud Tamu* (traditional open market) is held every Sunday and is one of the main weekly tamu in Sabah. An integral part of rural economic life here, as usual for me, markets are a pull factor, so Husin & Penel took us to Kota Belud on Sunday morning. The tamu is usually held from as early as 6 am till midday, so we set out from Kota Kinabalu heading north around 8.30 am. It was a journey of nearly an hour and a half, passing by the town of Tuaran which also has a Sunday tamu.

Archway into the Kota Belud tamu (MB 2013)

At the tamu Penel tells me that more and more, the women here are abandoning their native head wrap styles for the ubiquitous tudung (head-wear). We did spot three older ladies in traditional headgear, two selling dried shrimps and one selling tobacco and sireh. Tobacco at the tamu is rolled into packs or in loose heaps. It is usually smoked in cigarette form, the wrapper a long dried leaf (lopian). Similar to rokok daun that my grandfather used to smoke. The tobacco lady offered me betel nut and lime wrapped in sireh leaf to chew. I obliged but found it to be very pedas (spicy hot). So she offered me a quid of tobacco to hold in the upper lip to soothe my mouth. Yikes! This is reminiscent of my grandmother and her sentil (tobacco quid)!

Tobacco seller at the KB Tamu. Note 3 different headgears
on the ladies here (CNB 2013)

The tamu is fairly busy with all kinds of foodstuff and other items being sold. At the dried food section there were all kinds of fish and seafood. We bought tampoi and pisang rastali at the fresh fruit and vegetable section.

Dried fish at the Tamu (MB 2013)

'Pekasam' fish stalls (CNB 2013)

The crafts section was most  interesting with colourful basketry and woven textiles. I bought a small tudung saji and two trinket boxes as souvenirs.

Rainbow hued basketry (CNB 2013)

In the 50s the roof of these tamu stalls would have been atap
but now corrugated iron is used (MB 2013)

At Kota Belud, I was also hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous Bajau horsemen there, deemed 'Cowboys of the East'. But I only saw their horses tethered near some houses. I guess I may have to return during the annual tamu besar which is said to bring out the best of the culture and heritage of the Kota Belud indigenous community. The Tamu Besar Kota Belud is usually held in October or Novermber.

* Tamu is from the Malay word 'temu' - to meet.
24 March 2013

Thursday 28 March 2013

The North Borneo Railway & a Train Journey of a Bygone Era

Vulcan steam powered locomotive of the NBR (MB 2013)

The railway history in Sabah dates back to 1896, when it was constructed to transport tobacco from the interior. Today the Sabah State Railway (the only rail transport system in Borneo) runs from Tanjung Aru, KK to Tenom (134 km). The trains run daily, but twice weekly on Saturdays and Wednesdays a historic North Borneo Railway vintage (steam engine) train is operational from Tanjung Aru to Papar.

It was a railway journey I wanted to go on to celebrate my 62nd. It was short but most memorable because the North Borneo Railway 'offers passengers an opportunity to experience the bygone era of British North Borneo while transporting passengers along the lifeline of Sabah. Refurbished to recreate the nostalgic romance of people travelling by steam train ... in the 1900s'.

9.30 am    We collect our tickets and 'passports' at the Tanjung Aru Station, then board the train.

10.00 am  The train leaves the station for Papar. (Continental) breakfast is served on board. We pass by Putatan and the train hugs the coast for a view of Lokawi Bay and the South China Sea.

10.40 am  We stop for 20 mins. at Kinarut. Some of us visit the Chinese Temple here, M and I walk  around the little town with its traditional shops and a tamu (market).

11.00 am  The train departs from Kinarut Station. We pass by Kawang, home to Kawang Forest Reserve.

11.45 am  We arrive at Papar Station after crossing the Papar River over a yellow steel trestle bridge. Here at the station we watch the locomotive head do a turnaround for the return journey, before going on a walkabout of Papar town. No, the locomotive head did not go on the walkabout - we did.

12.20 pm  We re-board for the return journey and the train departs 10 mins. later. A very substantial 'Tiffin' lunch is served; quite a generous meal indeed - rice, chicken satay, fried fish, mixed vegetables, fresh fruits and ice cream. (The return journey does no stops).

1.40 pm We arrive at Tanjung Aru Station and disembark.

A carriage of the NBR (MB 2013)

Tiffin lunch on the train (CNB 2013)

In summary, this North Borneo Railway journey enables passengers to experience the sights and sounds of the Sabah landscape. The lush greenery, the quaint rustic little towns, the local children waving, errr ... also including the whistle sound of the locomotive very often along the journey. There is some soot involved - you will notice it in your drink. But its okay, all part of the great experience in the nostalgia of a vintage train travel. The journey was all the more interesting with trainmaster Encik Jual Hussin and the train stewards being ever so friendly, with their colonial style uniforms definitely a hit with the passengers.

Kinarut town view from the railway station (CNB 2013)

M with the trainmaster and stewards of the NBR (CNB 2013)

Note: The North Borneo Railway is a collaboration between the Sabah State Railway Department and Sutera Harbour Resort.

23 March 2013

Tuesday 26 March 2013

March 2013 Sabah Sojourn

Ten years ago B, A and I visited Sabah for the first time (see my previous blog entry of 10 October 2011, 'My Sabah'). Our good friends Penel & Husin played host in Kota Kinabalu and it was a most memorable visit to the land below the wind. Recently it was M's first visit, and P & H played host again. In fact I must say that we were thoroughly spoilt by their kind hospitality. Not only did Penel help with the hotel bookings (directly, not online) but she also got our tickets for the North Borneo Railway on the 23rd. And I got to celebrate my birthday with a vintage train ride, then dinner and a specially baked cake at her home. Thanks a million!

Thank you Sarah for the beautiful birthday cake! (CZ 2013)

Our first two nights stay was at the Nexus Karambunai in Menggatal, touted by some as "a piece of heaven". The Ocean Wing rooms are large and the gardens quite beautiful with purple water lilies in full bloom. The architecture of the resort is a combination of building ingenuity and local craftsmanship. I also found four paintings of Rafiee Ghani adorning the lobby wall - very nice!

It is jelly fish season (February to April) and we found many washed up on the beach. So M had to be content with swimming in the pools. Rather a letdown, but as they say, "don't play, play with jelly fish"! By the Karambunai Lagoon, we managed to capture on camera the elusive cloud smothered Mt. Kinabalu. Only just!

The sunset at Nexus Karambunai (MB 2013)

Karambunai Lagoon & Mt Kinabalu in the distance (MB 2013)

Playing hosts to Penel & Husin at Nexus Karambunai

Another three nights we spent in Kota Kinabalu, at the Sutera Harbour Resort. It is resort, hotel, golf, marina, spa, country club all rolled into one interesting site. But it is the sunsets here that are most intriguing. The marina had some beautiful sea crafts to admire too.

The sunset at Sutera Harbour Resort (MB 2013)

That is a helicopter atop this boat. Engkau ada? (MB 2013)

A pause during our Sutera Harbour walkabout  (2013)

One dinner we had with Husin and family was at the Chinese Restaurant of the Hyatt Regency, Kota Kinabalu. Interestingly, ten years ago we were sitting at the very same table of the restaurant, served by the very same maitre d'. The food tasted as good as ever. After dinner we had Husin and family pose on the very same bench we did ten years ago - just for (nostalgic) kicks.

Husin, Penel with Zul, wife & children (MB 2013)

On the same bench at Hyatt 10 years ago! (2003)

Apart from showing us the sights and sounds of Kota Kinabalu, Husin & Penel also drove us to the Sunday morning Kota Belud Tamu (traditional market). One afternoon I got to see the exhibits by local artists in the newly opened wakid-shaped Sabah Art Gallery/Visual Arts Conservation Centre with Penel. Once M and I checked out the Sinsuran Market in the city centre, but for our (pearl) souvenirs, on Penel's recommendation, I shopped at Jamilah Jewellery (wholesale shop) rather than the 'Filipino'/Handicraft Market.

Note: The recent incursion into eastern Sabah may have seen a drop in tourist numbers there, but we noticed many visitors from South Korea, China and Russia in Kota Kinabalu.

20-25 March 2013

Thursday 21 March 2013

Happy (Persian) New Year

Snowfall in Mashhad, Iran in early March 2013 (MB)

The Persian New Year falls on Nowruz ('New Day'), the first day of Spring, usually 21st March. Nowruz is officially registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In Iran, Nowruz is an official holiday lasting 13 days. Other countries that celebrate Nowruz include Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Turkey.


Wednesday 20 March 2013

Landmarks of Selangor: Rimbun Dahan

I saw the information about the 18th Residency Exhibition at Rimbun Dahan in the newspapers. So early in the morning of 17th March, M and I ventured to visit this landmark of Selangor, home of architect Hijjas Kasturi and his wife Angela. Rimbun Dahan is a 14 acre site in Kuang. Getting there was a bit tricky despite a GPS, but after a few wrong turns and with help from some locals, we arrived a little late because Angela had already begun her guided tour of the grounds.

She related the story of how her husband wanted to build a home in a kampung setting. And what a 'kampung'! Rimbun Dahan was built between 1989 and 1997 and 'is a centre for the creative arts, architecture, and the conservation of nature and buildings'. The main building which is their living quarters on one side and linked to the guesthouse on the other is surrounded by indigenous gardens, ponds, pools and sculptures. The modern design of the buildings 'reflect traditional forms - the bumbung panjang (long roof) and the tiangs (posts) of the traditional Malay house'. There are studios for dance and artists-in-residence, spaces for indoor and outdoor performances, an underground gallery and a garage of classic cars (notably Jaguars - I like!).

Right wing of the main building (MB 2013)

Part of the main building seen from the pool (MB 2013)

The grounds are planted with trees and plants of the Southeast Asian species. A spice garden was most interesting and Angela graciously offered seeds/cuttings to anyone interested. I noticed that the pala (nutmeg) trees (from Indonesia) were rather tall and fruiting well. So also there were many other fruiting plants and trees - cucumbers, lady's fingers, etc.

Water garden with a sculpture on the left (MB 2013)

A restored 19th century Malay house from Perak, the Rumah Uda Manap, proved quite unique as there are Chinese decorative elements on it. Two other relocated/heritage houses are nearby.

A Perak Malay house with Chinese details (CNB 2013)

From inside the above house (CNB 2013)

The back of the dance studio opposite the garage (CNB 2013)

Sculptures dot the grounds and somehow rather blend in with the environment. We had to leave (after thanking Angela) but without seeing the exhibition by resident artists Helmi Azam Tajol Aris and Jonathan Nichols. We had to rush back to Pulau Pinang after receiving news about my beloved mother.

Two sculptures in Rimbun Dahan (CNB 2013)

Ref: Landmarks of Selangor. Jugra Publications, 2003.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Al Fatihah - Farewell Mak

My Mak (mother) passed away on the morning of 17th March 2013. She was 91 and she died peacefully. I was with M at Rimbun Dahan in Kuang when I received news that she had left us. So with A & B, we made for Pulau Pinang soonest possible. But sadly, we were not able to see her for the last time because the burial took place immediately after asar (the Masjid AlQadri people would not wait for more than two azans, as is the practice). We know that she has gone to a better place and may Allah bless her soul always.

It is a time of sadness for my family and me. I have fond memories of both my parents who worked hard to ensure that my siblings and I have a better life. We thank you, Mak and Ba. Thank you for everything.

Saturday 16 March 2013

Kampung Baru, Village in a City

KL cityscape, Kg Baru in the foreground (CNB 2013)

Recently I was in Kampung Baru, the 'village' right smack in the centre of Kuala Lumpur, the oldest Malay residential area founded in 1899. I had not been in a very, very long time and remain quite intrigued by its environs as a next-door neighbour of the Golden Triangle of Kuala Lumpur.

Although there are still some interesting traditional Malay houses around, I guess it is inevitable that many have given way to concrete buildings. We could view the Kuala Lumpur skyline from a balcony of one such building in Kampung Baru. The mosque at the junction of Jalan Raja Alang dan Jalan Raja Abdullah (built in 1924) was also easily identified from 'above'.

The Mosque, Kg Baru (CNB 2013)
3 March 2013

Wednesday 13 March 2013

World Wonder Architecture: Parthenon

The Parthenon (CNB 1978)

The Parthenon was built as a shrine by the Athenians for their patron goddess Athena. It serves as a reminder of the Golden Age of ancient Greece. The architecture of this largest temple in Greece is in the Doric style. It has eight columns (34 feet high, 74 inches in diameter) across the porch and 17 along each side. The temple stands on the Acropolis ('upper city'), Athens.

It was built of local white marble between 447 and 436 BC by architects Ictinus and Callicrates. Sculptures were by Phidias. In the 5th century AD, the temple was converted into a Christian church. The Ottoman Turks who occupied Greece from mid 15th century to 1821 used it as a mosque and weaponry store. The marble roof of the Parthenon was destroyed in 1687 in an explosion caused by Venetian bombardment. Friezes from the crumbling Parthenon were taken (stolen say the Greeks) by the then British ambassador Lord Elgin and sold to the British Museum in 1816.

M at the Parthenon (CNB 1978)
M and I were at the Parthenon in July 1978. We observed then that there was much reconstruction and conservation work being done at the Acropolis of Athens. There were not too many visitors at the time and it was possible to take pictures of the Parthenon sans people around.

Lately the Parthenon has been cordoned off to prevent further damage by the trampling feet of enthusiastic tourists.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

SA Garden Catalogue: Arabian Jasmine

Although free flowering throughout the year, the Arabian Jasmine shrub in my little garden has started to bloom after a (floral) hiatus for some time. Every morning now I will stop to smell the small white jasmine flowers and their perfume is highly fragrant and aromatic.

Arabian jasmine (CNB 2012)
Common name: Arabian jasmine/Jasmine
Scientific name: Jasminum sambac
Malay name: Melur
Family: Oleaceae/ Jasmine
Origin: India

This plant loves the full sunshine and may be grown on the ground or in containers. Propagation is simply by cuttings. Although it grows easily and pruning produces new shoots and flowers, the plant is sometimes 'attacked' by spiders. The affected branches may be pruned away, and new ones will grow soon enough.

Jasmine flowers on its vine (CNB 2012)

In about a week's time the Spring Equinox, marking the start of spring in the northern hemisphere will occur. Day and night are equal before the days then become longer after the 20th March. In the garden, Spring is definitely in the air. Although the sky some times darkens and rumbles but it is only a threat, because mostly, no rain falls. At least not in Shah Alam. So there is the need to water the garden every day or else some plants, especially those in containers start to wilt.

A Jasmine plant in a container (CNB 2013)

Most of the plants in the garden are budding/flowering - the Chinese gardenia, Straits rhododendron, Thai jasmine, Crown of thorns, Hydrangea, Mock orange, Frangipani, and Torch ginger (I had harvested two buds and another two have come up, yay!).

Thursday 7 March 2013

Books I Love: Silent Spring

My Fawcett Crest 1968 copy of Silent Spring

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was published in 1962 and has become a classic for the environmental movement. Carson who died in 1964, was a marine biologist who wrote on the consequences of the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Her dramatic first chapter 'A Fable for Tomorrow' paints a picture of a town once full of abundance and in harmony with its surroundings. Then it all began to change as a strange blight crept over the area ... and the voices of spring silenced.

Rachel Carson then uncovers the destructive nature of chemical insecticides and cautions the use of these 'elixirs of death'. As a scientist, her findings wherever these were used were too alarming to keep to herself. Hence Silent Spring, as 'a cry of warning'She received many awards for Silent Spring, including The Schweitzer Medal and Conservationist of the Year.

Environmental historian Thomas Dunlap notes the book prompted research that led to major policy shifts ... and a 1972 overhaul of regulations on the sale and use of all pesticides (including the ban of DDT). "She was the catalyst for the modern environmental movement, and in that sense we are all children of Carson"

Ref: Spring awakening by John Briley, National Geographic September 2012 
Ex Libris CNB 0090

Saturday 2 March 2013

Glass Art at the Art Case Galleries

Batik on glass by Raja Azhar Idris, master glass artist (CNB 2013)

Recently during the Chinese New Year holidays, a friend and I visited the Art Case Galleries in the Great Eastern Mall (GEM), Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. The Gallery which exhibits and sells contemporary art pieces to collectors and corporations, is managed by famed professional artist Raja Azhar Idris and was set up in 1993. Whenever I find myself at the GEM, I would pay a visit to this art space on Level 4.

Another (provocative) batik on glass by Raja Azhar Idris (CNB 2013)

This time the art pieces are of a recent exhibition. The "Kaca Kacha Glass Art Exhibition" which was held from 16 December 2012 to 2 January 2013, featured the works of Raja Azhar Idris, master glass artist and four emerging glass artists under his tutelage, Zulkifli Hamzah, Bob Zain, Nafiz Ahmad Jaafar and Shareena Shahridan.

'Composition III' by Nafiz Ahmad Jaafar, 14 (CNB 2013)

Most interestingly, Nafiz Ahmad Jaafar is only 14 years old. Or rather 14 years young! Shareena Shahridan, also a jewelry designer, happens to be the spouse of Raja Azhar Idris. She designs exclusive handcrafted glass jewelry including pendants, earrings, bracelets, brooches, etc. We were lucky to meet her there and she explained some of the beautiful works of glass art and the meticulous methods of painting and sculpting glass.

'Paddy Field' by Shareena Shahridan (CNB 2013)

Glass artist/jewelry designer Shareena and I (2013)

According to Shareena, the Art Case will close its doors at the GEM at the end of March, and relocated in Bukit Antarabangsa. Hopefully I will still be able to visit their exhibits at the new site.

Art Case at GEM (CNB 2013)

Note: Do check out Raja Azhar Idris' folio at his website. It is indeed a feast for the eyes - I love the exquisite glass installations. Also his long 'journey with glass'. He has an eponymous book subtitled 'Fragility ... Versatility', published in 2006 in conjunction with his solo exhibition.
11 February 2013