Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lure Of Tanjung Sepat

The first thing I did upon arriving in Malaysia was to set off to a trip over the weekends to a quaint little coastal fishing village in Selangor. Tanjung Sepat lies in the Kuala Langat district, a-couple-of-hour drive south-west of Kuala Lumpur. This was actually quite a last-minute decision for me to join this trip. A friend of mine, Qing Huang, asked me a few days before I flew back if I would be interested to join their university's Chinese Language Club trip.

Since I was already in KL and the timing seemed to be just right, I agreed to join them. Besides, it has been some time since I last go travelling around Malaysia. Well, not too long actually because I have gone to Penang, Malacca, KL and Taiping just a month earlier haha!

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There are only thirteen streets in this small town and this is one of them.

Qing Huang and I actually planned something naughty when I went to meet the rest of the trip members on the morning we were to start our journey to Tanjung Sepat. Our plan was for him to introduced me as a Japanese to his friends as he'd told them he was bringing along a Japanese friend to join the trip. It wouldn't be a problem for me to simply speak out some random Japanese phrases to his friends to further convince them that I am a Japanese. But there are a couple of problems - I do not look like a Japanese and secondly, my physical doesn't portray a typical Japanese guy at all haha!

But guess what, our plan was kinda successful to the extend that they asked for my Japanese name. Right at that time however, I was like didn't know how to answer them because I forgot to think of a handsome Japanese name beforehand haha! Anyway, I decided to reveal the truth because if I continue to imitate a Japanese, I suppose most of them will be shy and afraid to come and talk to me and I would be quite lonely during the trip. So sad can haha!

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I like this shot a lot - everybody was doing something different. Some were busy eating, some looked chocked by spicy chilly, and some tried to act cute haha!

We reached our destination at lunchtime, slightly later than schedule due to some miscommunication halfway the journey. The first thing was of course to hunt for food. One of the members whose hometown was Tanjung Sepat brought us to a stall that specialises on hand-made noodle cake, or commonly called mian fen gao (面粉糕).

The process of preparing a bowl of mien fen gao is done manually. The flour dough are knead and torn into pieces, before being thrown into boiling water. There are two types of mian fen gao, the more common soup type, and the other one is the dried version, kon lou. I went for the dried version out of my curiosity to try how does it taste like.

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Mian fen gao with soup, topped with fried anchovies, minced meat and mani chai (cangkok manis).

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This is the dried version, and I personally think that this is slightly better than the soup one, which was a little bit overcooked and soft.

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Zhong Han with an interesting design t-shirt.

One of the thing Tanjung Sepat is famous for is the aroma of roasting coffee beans right in the middle of the mish mash of houses and shops in this tiny town. You can almost taste the yummy aroma halfway down the street. Joo Fa Trading is a family business owned by Mr Lim Seng Peng, who has been running the business for more than 50 years. This coffee maker roasts and sells coffee powder made from locally farmed coffee beans in the area, and specialises in black, diamond and the highly prized civet coffee beans, made from beans which civet cats have literally excreted.

Fronting the work area are antique coffee machines and pots. There is no modern equipment whatsoever at his shop. The entire coffee making process is done manually from the sorting of the beans, to the roasting and grinding and lastly the making of coffee in a Chinese tea cup for sampling.

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The tiny yellow signboard that reads "Joo Fa Trading", which indicates the location of the coffee shop-cum-house.

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The freshly plucked coffee seeds in the white sacks.

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The price of coffee beans, written with chalk on a small blackboard.

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Newspaper cuttings about this shop and photos with many visitors who has paid this place a visit.

Despite the humble exterior of this shop, this place has managed to attract visitors from all over the world who either read about the excellent quality of the coffee there, or heard about it from people who has visited the place. There were one time where a visitor happened to read about this shop in a travel article on board a flight to Kuala Lumpur, that he immediately made arrangements to visit Tanjung Sepat as soon as he touched down, specifically to check out the local home brew.
 
So, what makes the coffee here taste so good and different from other places? The secret is in the bean. Each one of the black, diamond and civet coffee beans has its distinct flavour. The black tastes smooth with a slight hint of bitterness, the diamond has a rich taste which is neither sweet nor sour and the civet coffee beans have a sweetish taste with a bit of spice.

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A coffee plant at the backyard of the shop for tourists' viewing. It was my first time seeing a coffee tree and the leaves are very similar to jackfruit tree.

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A closer look at the coffee seed, still intact on the tree.

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Dried coffee seed, which has turned dark.

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Further drying process on the coffee beans shrunk them into smaller beans.

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One of the higher quality coffee beans, which could fetch up a few hundred ringgit for just a few grams. If I'm not mistaken, 
this one produces some golden marks when rubbed against your palm.

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As for this diamond coffee bean, you can see tiny bits of shining diamonds under the sunlight.

The best time to visit the shop is in the morning until around noon, as that is the time when you get to witness the entire coffee-making process, from the coffee bean roasting, cooling process, and milling them into coffee powder. Visitors can also purchase the various coffee powder as well as getting a chance to try a cup of the freshly brewed coffee by Mr Lim himself.

Mr Lim, who is so passionate about coffee is a true coffee maestro. This friendly shop owner is  so dedicated to the art of coffee making that he is more than happy to give visitors a better understanding of the various kinds of coffee beans, their distinguish flavours and the production steps. To him, it is just a piece of cake as he is there every single day crafting the entire process from the raw coffee pod to our steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee.

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Everything is done in the traditional way. Firewood are use as the fire source to roast the coffee beans.

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Sugar and margarine are added during this roasting process, which lasted for several hours continuously.

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After the coffee beans reached the desired texture, they are taken out and the are cooled down using a huge fan.

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The coffee beans harden immediately after they are taken out from the huge wok.

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This is how the coffee beans look like after they cool down. They tasted sweet outside but very bitter inside.

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The next step is to separate the clusters into individual beans using this machine.

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Finally, the coffee beans are turned into coffee powder and ready to be packed for sale.

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The fan and the dried coffee beans.

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This fella tried to be "gatal" with a girl (whom I suppose the owner's daughter) at the shop and offered to help her sell the coffee powder, but was declined haha!

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Mr Lim telling us some stories about coffee and his face tells us how much enthusiast he is when it comes to coffee talk.

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Happy faces of the kids who get to hold on unprocessed coffee beans haha!

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Mr Lim showed us an article about his shop which was featured in Malaysia Airlines in-flight magazine, "Going Places".

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Uncle Lim brewed some fresh coffee for us. He even offered us some Jacob's biscuit to go together with his coffee lol!

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Although I am not a big fan of coffee, I gotta say the aroma of this cup of coffee is just too hard to resist.

For some of us, "designer" coffee is the only coffee deemed as drinkable good coffee and you can’' even think of drinking local coffee without the idea being pooh-poohed. However, after you have checked out the coffee at Joo Fa Trading, you'll probably come back singing otherwise. So, if you have never considered giving our local coffee a go, this is the best opportunity to start. Take a break and leave behind your "designer" espresso, tall and grande from Starbucks and Coffee Bean and head out to Tanjung Sepat for some good old fashioned Hainanese coffee. It is a trip you won't regret.

Lastly, I leave you with a photo collage of the four of us striking a similar pose to Mr Lim's daughter holding the raw coffee beans in palm, which was one of the photo's published in the "Going Places" magazine.

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Do you think I can start considering myself to do part-time job as a cover boy?

You know I was just kidding haha!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Home Sweet Home

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Hello folks!

I am back to Malaysia for my spring break for the next five weeks. Yup, a super long cuti-cuti Malaysia for me haha! I will touch down at LCCT early Friday morning and will be spending a few days in KL, over the weekends. So, if anyone wanna meet up and have a glass of teh tarik or something like that, do leave a message here. I'm not sure whether I will be able to go online much in KL, but I'll try and check my mails whenever I can.

Till then, Happy Belated Chap Goh Meh!

*edited* 
I will be down to KL from Monday, Feb 28th onwards for five days. So if there is anyone who is free, do leave me a message and probably we could go out for a glass of tea.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

White Valentine's Day

Oh, don't worry, this is not a lovey-dovey post.

I told one of my friend recently, how I wish that it snows for at least once before I fly home for my spring break tomorrow. I know my wish is kinda impossible, because it usually doesn't snow in the Kanto region, where Chiba is located. Even if it snows, the snow usually won't accumulate and melts right away. Besides, it's already mid February and it will be spring pretty soon.

So, I was studying for my last paper on Valentine's night. Yup, if you wanna know how accompanied me on that night, well, I had my notes and books to accompany me. Damn romantic, right? Haha!

But you know, when the laptop is turned, the itchy hands will tend to click on any updates on Facebook, which was exactly what I did almost every thirty seconds lol! Okay, perhaps that is a bit too extreme; but pokoknya I checked, or should I say, I went to busybody people's updates all night. It came to one point when I saw several people wrote about how heavy it was snowing outside. So, the curious me put down my mechanical pencil and opened the window.

Holy cow! Guess what I saw?

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Boys and girls, these are not stars from the Milky Way, but snow flakes!

You see, being someone who has lived in Nagaoka, billed as one of the area where it snows the most in Japan for almost three years, it should not be something unusual to see the snow. But it is unusual to see it snows this heavy in Chiba. Of so many days, the snow decided to cheer those love birds by creating a white Valentine for them. Never knew that snow is quite smart also haha!

My dream came true after all, on Valentine's night.

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I was expecting to see everything's in white the next morning, and this is what I saw the moment I looked out through my window.

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The snow covered most uncovered stuff, which gave quite a beautiful view to enjoy early in the morning.

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The accumulated snow wasn't really thick, it was less than ten centimeters, I think.

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Rooftop covered with thin layer of snow.

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Luckily the pond didn't freeze, otherwise the Japanese carp inside would have turned frozen fish haha!

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The melted snow made the staircase quite slippery and I was extra careful to avoid a slip this year. Just for the record, I slip at least once every year for the past three years already haha! This winter, my record is clean : )

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This bike is already white in colour, but the snow wanted to make the seat looks white too.

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Sometimes, snow can be quite irritating, especially the aftermath when the snow starts to melt.

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Nice patterns formed on the ground.

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Guess what's this? It should not be a hard guess.

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Cars getting some icing on their body haha!


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The small lane that I walk pass almost every single day.


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Some random lady clearing the snow from the road.


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This might look nothing to people from places like Nagaoka or Kanazaka Kanazawa, but considering the amount of snow on the roadside, 
it is something quite amazing to see in Chiba.

I knew that the snow will probably won't come anymore this year after it snowed that night and we might have to wait for the next winter to see snow again. Besides, even if it does happen again, I will not be in Japan anymore as I will be in Malaysia already at that time. So, on my way to school, I took a few more shots at the train station.

Later that day, I saw some white pebble-lookalike stuff along the platform. Only after some time that I found out that they were salt sprinkled by the station staff to fasten the melting of the snow. I'm not sure about other places, but this is something new to me.

By the way, due to the snow, most trains were delayed a few minutes that morning, most likely because they ran the train at a lower speed for safety reasons.

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The usually dull-looking railway track turned white that morning.

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The train staff was still busy cleaning the snow away from the platform.

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Inage station along the Keisei Line.

On my way home, I decided to make a snowman. Long time didn't make one already. The snow was too little for me to reproduced that super-huge-taller-than-me snowman we did two years ago in Nagaoka, nevertheless, I am satisfied that I made one this winter.

For a change, I made the snowman to have something different.

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Oh hai! Donch'ya think I'm cool?

This snowman must be lying all the time, judging from its Pinocchio-nose length haha!