Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bak Zhang

Short note: This will be my last entry from Malaysia, as I will be heading down to KL tomorrow morning to take my flight back to Japan on the same day. But before that, I will take a transit flight at Changi first, before touching down at Narita. It is going to be another long journey and I hope I will not feel too exhausted by the time I reach my room on Tuesday evening. Six-weeks of a wonderful summer break has finally come to an end, and it will be back to the same daily routine for me once more. I just cannot wait for the next trip home. When will that be? Anyone fancy a guess?
I know it is more than three months since it was the bak zhang season.
However, I managed to persuade my grandma to make some for me before I return to Japan, because I was still in Japan when people were enjoying the bak zhang back home back then. Remember how weirdly I celebrated the day by making curry puffs, out of so many things back then? So, I consider this as the redemption time for me personally. To those who are still in the dark about what bak zhang is, basically it is a Chinese traditional food, made of glutinous rice stuffed with different kinds of fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves. Bak zhang is how we call it in Hokkien dialect, whereas it is called zong zhi (粽子) in Mandarin.
The glutinous rice, cooked with black soy sauce and some spices; and the filling, which compraises of pork or chicken, mushrooms and also some spices are prepared beforehand. I would say bak zhang will taste better if pork is used, compared to chicken. Furthermore, if chicken is used, we could no longer call it bak zhang anymore. We will have to call it keh zhang.
The ingredients (clockwise from top left): Glutinous rice, pork cooked with mushrooms, castanopsis (buah berangan)
and dried prawns.
Bamboo leaves are used to wrapped the dumplings and shaped into a pyramid shape. It is the bamboo leaves that give that special aroma to the bak zhang. Normally, the bamboo leaves and the strings are soaked in water first, so that it will not be that crispy and hard. Otherwise, the leaves will tear easily and will make it difficult when it comes to the wrapping part.
Soaking the leaves and strings in water.
Not everybody is able to wrap the dumpling neatly, unless they have been doing it frequently for years. Although my grandma does not make bak zhang that often, I would say she still able to wrap the dumplings nicely. First, two bamboo leaves are places together like it is shown in the picture below. Later, it is filled with some glutinous rice, fillings, dried prawns and some fried shallots. More glutinous rice are later filled into the upper part of the dumpling to cover the ingredients.
Then comes the tricky part - the leaves folding part. We have to make sure that every fold is nice and neat, otherwise the glutinous rice and fillings will spill out when we steam the bak zhang. The tying part is not an easy thing either, because if the bak zhang is not tied properly, it will loosen up later on. It is more common for us to use hemp string from banana trunks if the bak zhang is home-made, and it is not advisable to use rafia string to tie the bak zhang, because the chemical from the rafia string could leech into the bak zhang when we steam them. My grandma prefer the steaming method, instead of boiling the bak zhang in water because it will preserve the taste of the bak zhang more.
Filling the bak zhang with the ingredients.
It is easier to leave the string hanging down from somewhere when tying the bak zhang.
I felt like trying to tie one bak zhang by myself, after looking at my grandma a few times. I have to say that it was not as simple as it looked like, but I guess I did not bad on my first attempt.
My one and only.
After that, the bak zhang will be steamed for an hour or two, depending on the texture of the glutinous rice. The time required will be lesser if the glutinous rice is fried a while before it is used to wrap the bak zhang.
Water is filled underneath and has to be topped every time it gets dry.

Finally, it was the moment I had been waiting for. Makan time.
Closed sesame.
Open sesame.
My grandma made a myterious drink for me to go with the bak zhang.
Not just orange juice.
According to her, it is even better than taking Tongkat Ali.
P/S: This entry was inspired by Michelle's entry about the Nyonya version of bak zhang.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

My New Nickname

September 2007
I went to Hokkaido for my summer trip, and I stayed at my friend's hostel at Tomakomai Kosen. However, I realised that I left my external hard disc in his room halfway through my journey back to Nagaoka. Knowing that it would be almost impossible for me to head back and take it, I asked my friend to post the external HDD to my kosen.
The parcel from Hokkaido, with my external HDD inside.

December 2007

It was my winter break and I came back to Malaysia for a short two-week holiday. I was at Michelle's place in Malacca for a few days and this time, I left my red towel there. However, instead of sending it to me, I asked her to keep it and I will collect it some time in the future. I later found out that she had took it to New Zealand and it is resting in her room at 14, Gloucester Street.
Early-September 2008
Two week before I came back to Malaysia for my summer break, I found out that my laptop was giving me some start-up problems. That is why I had to send it for repairs in Kuala Lumpur when I was back early this month. However, I left the laptop bag at my aunt's place after sending the laptop for repair, and when I collected it several days later, I was rushing back and totally forgotten about the laptop bag, together will all the power cables and stuff, still left at my aunt's place. By that time, I was already in the bus and I had no choice but to either ask for someone (junior or friends) who will be coming back to Taiping to help me bring it back; ask my aunt to parcel it back; or I will go down to KL and take it back myself.
In the end, I went all the way to KL just to take that laptop bag.
Late-September, 2008
I went to visit my aunt in Penang island for two days, and she took me to have great food and it was nice getting the chance to play with my seven-year-old cousin. Before I returned to my hometown, I stopped by Nibong Tebal to see Kae Vin for another couple of days. While we were having our dinper (dinner + supper) at the pasar malam, I received a call from my aunt, who told me that she found my adapter and camera charger still stuck to the power socket, underneath a table rack. Realizing that it was already too late that night, much more when I would be returning to Taiping the very next morning, I asked my aunt to parcel both devices back to my house in Taiping.
That was the time when Kae Vin gave a nickname to me.
This one was delivered from Penang.
Late-September, 2008

Kae Vin dropped me at the bus station before he left for Cameron, and when the bus was just leaving, I felt like taking some pictures. My left hand went to my left pocket and immediately, I realised that my camera was not there. At the very same moment, I recalled that I took out my camera and placed it on the dashboard of his car. I told him about that and fortunately, he was just going to enter the highway and managed to make a u-turn to pass me my camera.
Among the stuff I left in Penang.
Late-September, 2008

Just when I thought I have had enough of leaving so many things in every places I go, I realised that my specs was missing when I wanted to wear it. I checked for my specs in my bag but there was only the container without the specs. I suspected that it could be left in Kae Vin's room when I stayed at his place two night's earlier. I tried confirming it with his brother, because Kae Vin was still holidaying in Cameron that time.
Kae Min told me there was an extra specs on the table, which he was not sure who it belongs to, and I knew that it must be mine. Since Nibong Tebal is just less than an-hour drive from my hometown, I went there yesterday. In the end, not only I took my specs from his place, we ended up watching two movies - Dark Night and Vintage Point, had a badminton game with some of his friends, and have a dinner with his family.
Perhaps you are still wondering what the incidents above have anything to do with the title of the post. Well, there is a common thing that relates every single incidents above, and that cannot be that difficult to spot it, can it? Yes, my tendency of leaving my stuff everywhere I go, which I do not say it is a good thing either. Of course I did not do them on purpose, because who would want to go through all those troubles of trying to get back those stuff left behind. That is why I was called dai thau ha by Kae Vin.
And I guess it is time for dai thau ha (big head prawn) to make a checklist very soon, while he is packing to leave for Japan.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Camwhoring While Harvesting Jackfruits

This is going to be one of the most silly post I will come out with.
My house is in between the two jackfruit trees, with light blue awning.
When my grandma used to stay at my house to take care of my younger baby sisters many years ago, she would fill her free time planting various kinds of plants at the end of the field, just opposite to my house. A green finger like my grandma who loves gardening very much, she planted many kinds of fruits which include bananas, jackfruits, rambutans and durians. However, only one survived until today - the two jackfruit trees.
They are so low that a little kid can even touch on the fruits.
My mum has been telling me that they have bore some fruits and would be ready to be harvested soon. We did not want to wait for the fruits to be too ripe, otherwise strangers would just pluck them away and we have encountered a lot of such experience. There were times where some Indians came and chopped off the banana trees that already have fruits on it just like that. When we asked them why did they simply chop people's tree without asking, they told us that they were using it for some temple ceremony and they did not know that there is someone who planted the tree.
Aiyoyo, karawaleh, common sense lah right? Do you think the tree will grow by itself there?
Anyway, just ignore those nuisances and back to the jackfuit story. I was actually going out to jog, when my mum asked me to follow her to check out on the jackfruits. So, the two of us went to the field, equipped with a knife and two empty rice bags. Before anything, we started to camwhore. Behold, the art of camwhoring to the silliest level.
Haha, my mum was wearing my sunnnies while showing the two thumbs-up.

Michelle said this is one of my stupidest pose ever, which I agree.
We checked on the fruits, and identified two fruits that were already ready to be harvested. Technically, it is best to harvest the fruit when the star pattern on its skin has turned flat and wide, and when it has come out with the unique odour of jackfruit. There were insects making holes on both fruits and if we did not pluck them, it would only let those insects to have a party in the fruits. We usually wrap the fruits with cloths to avoid them being exposed to direct sunlight, and also to protect the fruits.
My mum call it 'wearing jackets for the jackfruits.'
That red cloth is actually my mum's old shirt.
However, when the fruit grows bigger, this is what will happen.
Jackfruit showing an Incredible Hulk's act.
While I was busy putting the harvested fruits into the rice bag, my mum was at another corner, doing something else. I looked over at her direction and she seemed to be looking for something else.
She looked like a serial killer with her knife on her hand.
Ooo, rupa-rupanya she was cutting banana leaves to be used to wrap nasi lemak.
I almost lost my balance and fell into the big drain while taking this picture.
Although the distance of the place from our house is just less than 50 meters away, I drove her Kancil there. Yes, that shows how lazy we were. No lah, actually we know we would be plucking our jackfruits already, so it would be easier to take them home. One fruit is almost five to eight kilograms, and by the time we finished transporting them back using our body energy, I might as well forget about going for my jogging session anymore, since I have done some jackfruit work-out.
My asked my mum to pose for this actually. Haha.
Here is the harvest of the day.
Two medium-sized jackfruits and some banana leaves.
Thank you for reading this lame post.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Food Galore At Nibong Tebal

Short note: This is the second entry from my trip to Nibong Tebal last weekend, after I blogged on the places of interest in this town in the first entry. This entry will solely focused on all the nice food which Kae Vin took me to try on them. It is not advisable to read this entry with an empty stomach, more so if you are living in oversea. Do not say I did not warn you beforehand.
Here we go.
The first thing we did after Kae Vin picked me up was eating. He took me to the laksa-cum-ais kacang stall, in which he is very familiar with the tauke because he used to work there for a couple of months there after his SPM few years ago. Well, he mentioned about this special Nibong Tebal's laksa to me one time ago, and promised me that he would treat me to a bowl of the laksa if I drop over at his hometown. That is the main reason I visit him this time xD
Nibong Tebal's asam laksa, with prawn crackers.
This stall serves asam laksa, the one which is the sour type. One main difference between the normal asam laksa and the one here is that they have prawn crackers (hea pia) coming together with the bowl of laksa. It has been some time since I had laksa with hea kor, a thick sweet prawn paste, usually comes in dark black in colour to give a distinctive taste to the bowl of laksa. Laksa being one of his favourite food, Kae Vin did blog a very detailed post about the laksa in Nibong Tebal and how it is different compared to the laksa found elsewhere.
Ais kacang, with ice cream topping.
It is best to serve ais kacang or cendol together with a bowl of laksa. I do not think I have come across this kind of ais kacang, which has ice cream as the topping. The flavour of the ice cream may vary, according to the tauke. Another thing I love about the ais kacang is that they have a lot of ingredients underneath, which I do not find it always, such as dried raisins and atap chee. The fragrant syrup poured on the ice just tops it off, easily making it one of the best ice kacang I have ever tasted.
By the way, I got treated to this bowl of ice kacang for decoding this 'ip!dnt5' correctly.
Hokkien tar.
This is known as Hokkien tar, which is my first time coming across it. I woud say it is a fusion between dry curry mee and wantan mee, which is served with char siew (pork barbecue) and chopped spring onions. It has a little bit spiciness in it, but not too spicy that you will look around for a glass of water the moment your tongue makes contact with the noodle.
Coming to a town which is located so close to the sea, the trip would not be complete without having a seafood dinner. Well, it was not exactly a nine-course dinner at a luxurious restaurant, for all of us are stil studying and certainly would never afford to go to such places. Anyway, we picked up Kae Vin's brother, Kae Min and another friend of mine, Ming Chong who is studying at USM's engineering campus nearby before we headed to have dinner together at this restaurant. Chang Kee Restaurant is a Chinese restaurant that specialise in old Hakka cuisine, and people from Penang island and outstation would make all the way to this restaurant to taste the food, especially the crab porridge.
It was still early, but the seats are almost full already.
Kae Min and Kae Vin; apart from their interesting way of laughing, it is hard to find any similarities between the two brothers.
Me with Ming Chong.
It is so well-known that it is even mentioned on Wikipedia's page when you search for Nibong Tebal. We came to this restaurant to have the famous crab porridge, which looked different from what I thought initially when it was served on our table. I thought they have peel the crab meat from the shell, and we just have to eat them in a bowl. However, it was the opposite, as the crabs are served together with the shells still intact. In fact, they cooked the porridge with excessive amount of water and that made the rice still in grain form, which I personally prefer compared to the normal disintegrated mushy soft rice.
That type is more suitable for ducks, or people without teeth.
Crab porridge.
We of course, did not have only crab porridge for our dinner as we tried some other local delicacies like boiled mini octopus which will never grow up and remain that small, known to the locals as tu boe s'ng. Translating that directly from Hokkien would mean 'mother pig's ice'. Clearly there is no relation at all whatsoever.
Tu boe s'ng.
I think twice whether to try the round head of the octopus but still, that is way much better than any disgusting food from Fear Factor. I gave a try and it was not as bad as I thought. It was juicy and a little bit soft but not easily broken (jun jun) when you bite on it.
The brain of the octopus, inside its head.
Having nothing to do while waiting for the crab porridge, Kae Vin made me do this.
We did not order too much of food, because we were still quite full and we would be heading to the pasar malam after that. The last dish was a plate of tua pan char (大板焼), which I usually call it as waatan hor.
Tua pan char, with pork, fish balls and fish cake.
Our table after we finished our dinner.
After going to watch the fireflies, we went to the weekly pasar malam, just a few minutes drive from Kae Vin's house. We walked one round through the pasar malam, and bought a few stuff before we sat down to have some chat.
Mua chee - sticky starch covered with sweet grountnuts.
Tom yam mee.
The tom yam mee was not bad, which is cooked together with huge prawns, shrimps, mantis shrimps, meat balls and cuttle fish. It was not that spicy despite the sour gravy looked so red and spicy. Overall, I love the mantis shrimp the most. Just like how he pointed out, I find that most of the food found in Nibong Tebal are more spicy than average Chinese food. Nevertheless, it was just alright to fit my tolerance for spicy food as it was not too spicy, but just mild.
I would love to stay a little bit longer there but unfortunately, he was leaving for his trip to Cameroon Highlands with his friend the next morning. We went to have a breakfast first, and I was left to choose between chee cheong fan and Hokkien lor. I chose the latter, because the chee cheong fun there is similar to the one in my place. Hokkien lor is actually a combination of Hokkien mee (prawn mee) and lor mee.
Hokkien lor (pun unintended).
The gravy must be too nice that it attracted so many house flies to our table when we were eating.
Just before he dropped me at the bus station, we dropped by this shop selling hiau pia (it could also mean 'perverted biscuit' in Hokkien lol) to grab a few packets for me to bring home. The hiau pia here is slightly different from the one found in Taiping, because Nibong Tebal's one are bigger and more flat. Generally, there is not a vast difference in terms of the taste between the two.
The shop which sells perverted biscuits.
Hiau pia (香餅), or biskut wangi.
This marks the end of my short trip to Nibong Tebal and I would like to thank Kae Vin for taking me around his hometown, trying the nice food there and keep me in his house for one night. I shall be waiting for you in Taiping during the next summer ;)

A Day In Nibong Tebal

I planned to blog about this entry some time later, but after being requested by Kae Vin, I will put aside all the entries about my KL tour with the Japanese for a while, and blog first about my short trip to Nibong Tebal, the hometown of Kae Vin a couple of days ago. I dropped by this town on my way back to my hometown after paying a visit to my aunt at Penang island for one day.
I took a short bus ride from the ferry's jetty at Butterworth and Kae Vin picked my up straight away at one of the bus stop at Nibong Tebal.
One of the main road in Nibong Tebal.
I spent less than twenty-four hours in this town, because Kae Vin said it is just a very small town with has nothing much but good food, some interesting places and leng zai (referring to himself). Yes, this boy can be as serious, as well as lame to the maximum, depending on his mood. Anyway, he took me to quite a number of places and at the I will breaking them into two entries - places of interest and food around the town. As for this one it will be about the places we went around.
The first place we headed to was a so-called haunted mansion, in the middle of an oil palm estate, just a few kilometers drive from the town. The sun was setting very soon by the time we reached the estate, but we picked up some courage to walked into the mansion because it was still relatively bright. Otherwise, we two chickens would not be that brave to step into the haunted mansion. Being someone who is never a fan of horror movies, I began to have that eerie feeling when we started to walk into the oil palm estate.
The path that leads to the haunted mansion.
Perhaps I was just being paranoid.
The 99-door mansion.
Front view.
Known as the 99-door mansion, this mansion was used as the administrative office of the British during their occupation. However, the Japanese made it into a place to keep all the captives and communists who went against them when the Japanese invaded our country. Apparently, many lives were lost to the hand of the Japanese in this mansion, which explains why it is said to be a haunted place.
The front balcony.
The section behind the mansion.

It is called as the 99-door mansion because legend says that it has 99 doors, and some are locked and could not be opened until today. Those doors are remained locked because it is to keep the spirit of the Japanese war captive inside.
One of the locked door.
Kae Vin was doubting whether there are really 99 doors in this mansion while we were walking inside the place. I roughly counted on the doors and the two main rooms at the ground floor itself already have thrity-two doors. So, I suppose that it could be true that this mansion has 99 doors in total.
Ninety-nine doors.
We took a tour around the mansion, went up to the first floor, walked to the balcony, the corridors and even into the bathroom.
Trying some vintage effect on the picture to suit the mood.
Guess who took this picture for us.

Making sure each steps are safe.
At one corner, we spotted a dead owl on the wooden floor.
Kae Vin thought it was an eagle at first.
Just when the two of us were going to leave the place, a plump Indian boy came and asked us if we had gone to the Signal Room.
Signal Office.
The little boy, standing proudly in the Signal Room.
We were curious about the room and asked him what is it about. According to this little boy, this is the room where the British soldiers received radio signal from helicopters in the past. The family of this boy actually lives in this mansion, but what impressed me the most is that they even have Astro installed there. Still, one of the old grandma staying there could afford to ask us from RM 5 when we were about to leave the place, saying that she need that money to but some food.
Logically, if you can afford to fix Astro at your home, you can't be that poor, can you?
Saw the Astro dish in the middle?
Kae Vin then drove me to the river mouth of Sungai Kerian to watch the sunset.
Pulau Jerjak on the left.
New mangrove trees are planted to replace the old one.
Penang island in the background.

There are fishing villages around the muddy mangrove swamp, besides ponds being set up to rear fishes. On our way there, we came across a few groups of monkeys and I was told that there is a tree where the monkeys always have fun diving from the tree into the muddy river.
The tree is on the left.

Too bad that the sky was cloudy, and we could not watch the sunset. The Penang island is visible though, just opposite from where we stood.
Despite the fact that it is just a small town, there are sightseeing activities, even at night. Normally, we will relate fireflies seeing with Kuala Selangor, but there is a place here which offers the same experience as the one in Selangor, according to Kae Vin. We went there after having our dinner with Kae Vin's little younger brother, Kae Min and another friend of mine, Ming Chong. The fireflies sightseeing is the time when I came across one of the funniest moment during my short trip to this town.
This is the legal operator, which has a booth.
And a nice boat.
Basically, there are two operators there - one has a legal license, the other is an illegal one, in which they offer a ride at RM12 and RM 8 per person respectively. The legal one approached us at first, and just when we were going to take his ride, one middle-aged lady surged towards our direction and gave us a better offer. Both showed us their business cards to prove their validity. The legal man countered her offer, by claiming that their ride includes insurance, just in case anything happens. Both were involved in a mild war-of-words, with the four of us stuck in between the two. Since both of them will be taking us to the same spot, we decided to take the illegal one, and that is when we saw two totally different facial expression from both of them. The man looked really dissatisfied, while the lady was smiling broadly.
It did not rain earlier that day, and we could not see as much fireflies as usual. The light pollution from the factories nearby and the island across the sea did not help either. Nevertheless, it was an exciting experience because not only we got to see the fireflies, the boat ride was fun as we could feel the cool breeze along the river at night. The man who took us there asked us to catch the fireflies with a net provided to prove that they are genuine flies, not battery operated light bulbs. In the end, we felt more comfortable by catching the flies with our bare hands and put them into the bottle, which we later let them free once again. Even though we took the illegal ride, we came back safely, and noticed that the legal operator was not there anymore. I suppose he must be fed-up already.
The last spot we went was the local pasar malam.
It stretches more than 400-meters long.

Personally, it has been some time since I last go to any pasar malam. The only thing I could recall during our walk around the place was that I kept on inviting weird stares, and that made Kae Vin walked some distance away from me at times because standing by my side will make him look tiny.
On our way back, we stopped to catch a glimpse of an Chinese traditional opera show.
How modern technologies are fused with traditional customs. Digital board for subtitles on the right.
Chinese Santa Claus.
I used to asked my mum to take me to watch this shows when I was young, but most of the time, my mum would say we could not watch it because the first few days are meant for the viewing of the Gods. I do not know why, but I have a liking on it when I was young when most of the time, it would be the old ah peks who would watch these shows.
One thing I could not understand about Penang, especially Butterworth is how bad the condition of the bus station is, despite the number of development projects going on around the state. Not only it does not have proper platforms for the passengers to board the bus, the bumpy road condition is only next to those rural kampung areas.
Butterworth's bus station.
Parit Buntar's bus station.

How the two bus stations have a stark difference.
I stayed one night at Kae Vin's house before I went back to Taiping the next morning. Just when the bus was about to leave the Parit Buntar bus station, I realised that I left my camera in his car, and he had to returned to pass me my camera. Lucky thing that he still have not enter the highway when I called him. That is the second time I forgot about my things in as many days, because I left my camera charger at my aunt's place the day before. For that, I was called 'nga thou' 'ha thau' or 'prawn's head' in Cantonese, which means someone who is forgetful.
The Red Omnibus.
By the way, I went back by this Red Omnibus, which has been around the town even before I was born. If my memory serves me correctly, I have taken this bus in only two other occasions, and that when I was about five-years old. That might be a long period back, but I could still remember that the bus conductor would use a puncher to punch on the tickets. That practice still lives until today.
They even have a drawing of a clock at the bottom of the ticket.
I shall end this entry with a sequel pictures which show an incident inside the bus.
The bus condustor seems to be having constipation.
"I am going to the jamban lah now. What see see harh?"
Hah! See lah, simply scold at passangers. Now kena scolding by boss
I know it is not funny, but laughing for two seconds will be good enough.
P/S: Here is an entry about my trip to Nibong Tebal, by Kae Vin in his blog.