Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Boiled Squid

I'm off to the Philippines this Thursday, hurrah for me. 

I'm going with my church.

Which I don't think I've ever done before…or at least, not for a long time. I'm not usually one for following someone else's program, especially when travelling. But hey, learning to share is ok :P

Enjoyably, the team and I went over "the rules" yesterday. 

Many of which focused on not becoming "romantically involved"…haha. But one of them was about the importance of respecting local customs…and local food, i.e. if someone offers you a disgusting meal, you should eat it. And appear to enjoy it. 

Which is fair enough, someone has gone to the effort to cook or buy you food, one should at least try and smile. In Malaysia this is not a problem 90% of the time, cos you guys have good food!!


After "the rules" meeting, we all went out for dinner. And inadvertently tested out the food-face rule. 

Someone ordered squid for the table…it was raw-looking squid and I'm not exactly sure what was on it, but some kind of dark, syrupy sauce and crushed peanuts. I don't really like squid at the best of times, so I was happily not eating it. 

Plus, as my English friend is still here, she's now the novelty focus of, "Ooh, have you tried this? You should try this", instead of me. Happy days.

So this happened re: the squid, and she reluctantly stabbed a piece and chowed down. 

Everyone looked on expectantly…

Friend: Mmm…are they peanuts?

Local friend: Yes, peanuts, it tastes much better with peanuts.

Me: (shocked) Is it good?

Friend: Yeah...

Me: Huh. Is it cooked?

Local friend: Yeah, it's cooked. 

At this point, I am curious. I do like cooked squid sometimes…and I do like peanuts…and my English friend likes it…so maybe it'll be good..?

I stab a squid and put the whole thing in my mouth. 




WHAT is this thing in my mouth???? WHY am I eating it????? Horrifying!!

I look around the table in shock and accusation.

Local friend: The face, the face!! Practice the face!!

I try. 

I fail. 

It's SO DIFFICULT!!! How to look like you're enjoying something that's the most gross thing ever?? It was such a big piece, there's no escape, I have to keep chewing but it's not getting smaller, I can't spit it out and I can't just swallow it or I'll choke but EWW it's SO BAD!!!


Retrospectively, I discovered that the squid was boiled, which hardly constitutes cooking, in my opinion. And secondly, turns outs my English friend did an incredible job of "the face"! She hated it too, but she fooled everyone, including me!!!

I have some serious work to do…in a couple of weeks I'll be back to let you know how I got on... :P

Friday, 19 August 2011

A Snow Globe of Fish

It's been a whole week since I last posted. Don't be upset. I'm back with language tales from Pulau Perhentian!


One of my best buds from my homeland is currently visiting me, so I took her for a trip to the beach.

We arrived and began the hunt for accommodation…which luckily, despite being super-high season, was easy. We looked at two places and in the end, here's how the decision went:

- Chalet 1 : has a baby monkey!! 
- Chalet 2 : has 24 hour electricity. 

Reluctantly, we opted for number 2, on the pretext that we would sneak next door and play with monkey anyway.



Time for snorkelling then!?

We'd already seen many signs on the beach for snorkel trips at 2pm…so we got our kit on and headed in the right direction. 

Along the way we bumped into what could only be described as the Malay version of Captain Jack Sparrow. 

Cpt Jack: Snorkelling?

Us: Yes.

Cpt Jack looked surprised to be taken up on this throwaway offer, and paused, tilting his head slightly to decide what to do next. 

Cpt Jack: You have mask?

Us: No.

Literally, he was like a wild pirate -  you could see his thoughts form slowly on his face, his speech was accurate but slurred together so everything was one word, and his arms flailed loosely as he explained and questioned. All signs of one who's taken way too many drugs or spent far too long in the sun.

Or both. 

For some reason we didn't walk away, and agreed to get into a boat with him. 

But first, we had to pick up the masks and flippers from Chalet 1 (see before). As we waited, the small, naked toddler who was resident there, ran around with a toy in his hand. He dropped it here and there, put it on the see-saw, offered it to us then withdrew and clasped it to his chest. In the end he dumped it into the basket of his small bicycle. Turns out the toy was a kitten. 


[tiny kitty and monkey]

We returned to the beach and were informed that Cpt Jack's friend wanted to take us snorkelling, so to avoid a fight, Cpt Jack was releasing us to him. Which in retrospect, was a rather lucky escape. 

It was a delightful trip, saw sharks (yess!) and turtles and lots of other fish (sorry other fish…you don't have names…)

Although, one of my highlights was when another boat was throwing bread to the small stripey fish (and I'm sure at one point, onto my back…) and they were swimming around in huge clusters. And my friend threw me this incredible line:

Friend: Come over here, it's like being in a snow globe of fish!

Such an accurate description! I sunk just below the water level and didn't move - my whole goggle-vision-area was a layer of fish. Cool. 


The other fun thing about being on an island, aside from swimming with fish…is eating them :)

Fresh fish BBQ is yummy.


But, we made the mistake of ordering from the BBQ and the normal menu. Which was an error because they are clearly not time-co-ordinated. So our vegetables arrived. And our fish hadn't even reached the grill. What to do? Eat in shifts? Wait till they're both done? …go and ask for special favours..?? 


The latter. When on holiday, actually no - always. Life in general, it's fun to be a bit cheeky. So I volunteered to practice my BM (making the effort, even if you fail, surely increases your chances?) and go ask them to prioritise our fish. 

Tipping the odds in our favour, was the fact that after we ordered our food, the barbecue man said to us:

"Mmm. Lovely girls."

Cheeky, no? Therefore, it's a winner. 

I cobbled together the sentence: 

"'Bang…bakar ikan saya dulu..??"

...And trotted off to deliver it. 

It did not go well. 

Barbecue bastard (as he later became known) grumpily told me, "I following the rules. There is a line. I follow the line", whilst gesturing angrily at the long line of fish, with his BBQ tongs. 


Geez. You can be cheeky but we can't? Humph. 

On the plus side…he understood me! Hurrah!!


We ate the veggies first.



But to make us feel a little smug, barbecue bastard quickly realised he had responded rather too harshly to the nice English girls, and spent the next few days trying to make a mends - waving, smiling and making polite conversation as often as possible. And giving double portions of watermelon (see above picture).

You know what I say to that?


Friday, 12 August 2011

Taste Bud Evolution

Last night I had a lazy evening at home and made an old time favourite : beans on toast. Not the fake kind either - genuine Heinz. I'm not gonna lie, I was excited. 

Until I ate it. 

I was happily munching through but after a few bites I realised…this sucks. What? It tastes of nothing? I used to love this!! A staple food!!

I did an emergency-mental-scan of other recently observed facts: I ate nasi lemak and finished the sambal…I added curry to my rice, not just dhal…my fried rice was too bland without the chilli-infused soy (though it's not yet necessary to eat the actual chillis…). 

And it hit me : finally, after 2 years, my taste buds are adapting. 

Evolving, if you will. 

I have mixed feelings about this - on the one hand, I have extreme pride in my new spice-tolerating tongue (I was always the girl who couldn't even handle the korma) but on the other,  I'm a bit devastated that all the English food that I love so much will now have to be covered in chilli sauce :(

Who am I???

Monday, 8 August 2011

Dating at Gunpoint

I learned to drive in Malaysia. 

Well technically, I learned in England. But because I didn't have my own car, I didn't drive much or often. So I wasn't all that good…

But in Malaysia, even in KL, you cannot rely on public transport. It's a simple fact. You can use it…but you can't rely on it. So for daily use, cue my first car :)


But then there was an incident. 


It was night, I'd parked in a well-lit underground car park, then driven onto the equally well lit streets. And I forgot to switch on my headlights. I know, pretty major. 

I'd gone about 100m before I got pulled over. 


You know when that happens, the few minutes between the "please pull over" signal and the police officer reaching your window, are spent frantically searching your brain for the, "WHYYYYY, what have I done???" 

In my case? Oh yah. Lights. 


Now the scary thing about being pulled over in Malaysia, is that the police carry guns. Really big guns. Unholstered, cradled in the arms guns.

[it was bigger than this...but to be fair, not pointed in my face...]

I wind down my window and look guilty but hopeful. 

Police: "You know why I pulled you over?"

Me: "Yes I forgot to switch my lights on. Sorry. I realised as soon as I saw you. They're on now."  SMILING FACE

Police: "It's very dangerous you know."

Me:  "Yeah I know." SORRY FACE

Police: "Can I see your driving license."

I get it out. He asks me many questions about what I'm doing here and if I am not afraid to be driving alone at night…which I wasn't…  

Police: "I'm gonna have to write you a ticket then. [pulls out pen and notepad] Would you like me to write you a ticket?"

Me: "I don't think anybody wants to get a ticket, do they?" [...duh]

Police: "So how?" 

Ahhh, the famous, "so how". In Malaysia, everyone knows what this means. If you don't want me to write you a ticket, how are we going to solve this little problem, RAISED EYEBROWS, LONG, MEANINGFUL PAUSES..?

Me: "Oh, I don't have any money on me." SAD FACE

Police: "So how?"


Police: "How about…if you give me your number. And I take you out sometime?"



Did a policeman just ask for my number whilst his colleague paces my car holding a large weapon. Did I just get asked out at gunpoint?? Yes. Yes, that is what just happened. 

Me: "What?"

Police: "I will call you and we can go out."


Police: "What's the problem, do you have a boyfriend?"

Ahh, glory - a lifeline!!

Me: "No…"

What??? Why did you say no???

Me: "Errr, no…but my...housemate…"

Police: "Husband? You're married?" 

Me: [ooh, what a brilliant misunderstanding…but no ring. Risky...] "…No?"

Police: "I didn't think so, your license said Miss"


Close call. And a concerning attention to unnecessesary details, officer. 

At this point in the conversation, we ended up going in circles between housemate and husband. I think I was trying to say, "I have to go because my housemate will be waiting". But it certainly wasn't coming out that way…but my advantage here, was that rather than assume I don't know what I'm talking about, the police officer began to doubt his own English skills and walked away to save face;

Police: "Ok takpe, takpe. Don't forget your lights next time." 

Valuable lesson - the way to get out of a situation like this is with confusion! Keliru!

And so I escaped with my modesty, my phone number secure and no dates with policemen. 

Well done me. 

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Ramadhan Faux Pas

Selamat Berpuasa, relevant friends.

Today, a fasting post.

Malaysians are the most generous people you might ever meet. This is especially true when it comes to food. 

As soon as I stepped into the country, the only thing people want to tell me about is food:

Malaysian: So how'd you like Malaysia?

Me: Umm, yeah, I like it.

Malaysian: Do you like the food?You can eat anything you want at any time of day!It's great, right?Have you tried …[epic food list]…? 

Every time. Without exception.

[Side note: HOW do you answer the first question?? I know, it's fair enough as an opener, but seriously, it's so non-specific, I never know what to say…] 

Malaysians of all races: enthusiastic about food.

Anyway, after a while this food obsession rubs off on you - all the things I used to hate - milo, nasi lemak (for breakfast), barley, soup noodles, etc - I now love. Although I do still hate durian and ABC and that weird fermented rice dessert thing? Sorry.


And it's not just a passion for food, but a passion for sharing. In the UK it's pretty rude to take food from someone else's plate. The only people who do that are those super annoying couples…you know the ones. No ones does that. But here? There is no space for food-possessiveness. You made the best order on the table? Watch out. It'll be gone before you pick up your fork (or spoon, haha).

After some getting used to, it is normal to share and offer food. Which is all well and good until it comes to fasting month.


Me: [picks up a banana from desk. friend nearby. offer] Banana?

Muslim Friend: No. I'm fasting.

Me: [0.0] Oh crap, sorry!!!!!!!!

[the offending bananas]

I am not fasting, obviously, and I have been drilled with food-generosity. It's like, 11 months of the year, to not offer food is selfish and rude. But to offer it during this one month…selfish, rude, torturous, TAUNTING behaviour! Who IS this girl??

Sorry in advance, muslim friends, for all the food I will try not to offer you this month… 

Monday, 1 August 2011

Futbol Malaysia: Uncles and Lasers

It's a slightly bitter entry for Malaysians to read today…because I am writing about football. In particular, the World Cup qualifier that Harimau Malaya lost to Singapore last week. 

But fear not. My interest is not really the game itself…but a few incidental details. Like where on earth does Singapore find its players???

From what I understand, saying that half of their players are foreign is no understatement. It's literally true. But because it's Singapore, not Milan, their selection is…interesting. Take this guy for example:

[i'm talking about the guy in the red. yes.]

Me: "Daddy is...is that you..? Oh wait, no."

Hahaha. My dad doesn't really look like that...but the point is, this guy's an "uncle"! This is a World Cup qualifying match! There's a reason footballers retire young - every time someone went in for a tackle with him it was like; "Ooh, careful, not too rough, ah?

…reeeaaally awkward to watch…


And then there's the coach:

[is this guy the coach? i didn't bother to check...]

All the players on the team affectionately call him "grandpa". 

Ok that's a lie. But it didn't surprise you, did it? 


And then there were the lasers:

[go on, watch. it's only 1 minute]

Are you kidding me, lasers?!?!?!? So in the first few seconds of the video you think:  What? Why is this [cute] guy complaining about nothing? Here's a classic example of legendary, small-boy-football-stall-tactics. 

And then they give you the slow-motion replay and: "…is that…wait…a laser? A LASER?!?!" A laser. What madness is this, Malaysia? Really. You are lasering the Singaporean goalie! Incredible. 


Ok, enough rant from me. I leave you with my favourite picture of the night:

["ooo" - read with Alan Partridge intonations]