Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas is coming

We have survived four weeks of school holidays and there's two weeks left before we say goodbye to 2011 and hello to Year 4 for Caitlin.

The past week, which was the fourth week, saw me and C simply going through the daily routine rather lazily. E, on the other hand, was very busy at work, returning late because of work and because of the flashfloods which occured during rush hour traffic in the evenings.

We have yet to buy our Christmas presents. No need to panic (but I still wish we could have done it earlier). It will be done somehow. Based on experience, everyone who is supposed to get a gift will get one when the time comes. 'Last minute' is the norm every year when it comes to Christmas presents. I could have done it earlier if it were left to me but most times, E and I don't agree with the choice of gifts so I leave it to him in the end to do it. It does help when we exchange wishlists with others but there are pros and cons to that too in my opinion.

If only we can do away with presents for each other once awhile. Speaking for myself, after all, I do have what I need, and there's more to Christmas than presents, which I sometimes forget when I get caught up with the activities it involves i.e. shopping, eating, cooking, partying.  

We've not put up any Christmas decor or the tree at all till now. Somehow this year, the Christmas mood is lacking, and we've been busy most weekends. And I don't see any point in hauling out the stuff from deep storage at this late juncture only for it to be put back again after two weeks.

So I'm expecting a quiet Christmas this year as with most years, nothing out of the ordinary other than the normal activities that we have every year i.e. go to church, and spend time with family.

I hope I don't sound like Scrooge. I'm being a bit more contemplative this time about the real meaning of  Christmas - The Gift of all gifts, and what it means when we say it's better to give than to receive.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Weekend in Ipoh

We are now into the fourth week of the school holidays. Last week was a rather mundane one where we stayed home most of the time, and C had to attend BM tuition three days consecutively. However, on Saturday morning, we drove to Klang to rendezvous with E's parents and had breakfast at their favourite bak kut teh shop in Teluk Pulai before heading off together to Ipoh. We were invited to E's uncle's 80th birthday dinner there.

As Sunday was a public holiday for the state of Selangor (making Monday a holiday too), we expected traffic to be slightly heavier with people taking the opportunity to travel over the long weekend. We got caught in a jam due to the exodus out of the city along the North Klang Valley Expressway from Klang heading to the toll exit. Thankfully, after the toll, the highway was clear and we arrived in Ipoh in good time.

We had lunch in a coffeeshop before heading to E's aunt's house where we were staying the night. Shortly upon arrival, E and I followed E's cousin and wife to another coffeeshop as they had yet to have lunch....(greedy us...)

As Ipoh is a food haven, we got to savour some new flavours as the local hawkers gave their own twist to some Malaysian culinary delights. The coffeeshop had stalls selling popiah, Ipoh's well-known bean sprout chicken noodle (nga choy kai see hor fun), pork satay, sotong kangkung (their gravy is different from the ones in KL), rojak (Ipoh version) and caramel custard. Too bad this time I didn't bring my camera to take pics of the food. I didn't even think of using my cameraphone as I was distracted by the hustle and bustle of the crowded place, our conversation and the food! The name of the coffeeshop is Kong Heng and based on the number of food blogs that have written about it (google 'Kong Heng Ipoh'), I guess it is indeed popular.

While we were enjoying our 'second' lunch, C enjoyed herself at home playing with her cousins (kids of E's cousins) and more so with games on the two iPads that were making their rounds among the five kids. As they were about to play soccer outside in the garden, it started raining. After 'lepaking' indoors, it was time to get ready to attend the dinner.

Dinner started rather late with the restaurant being rather inefficient  in getting the first course out. The food was good and portions were large. A few dishes, especially those towards the tailend of the seven (or eight?) course dinner, had quite a lot leftover, and were 'tah pau-ed' (doggy-bagged), a typical Malaysian habit of not letting food go to waste. The restaurant's name is Kok Thai, located in Kinta City, near Jusco. (Another good restaurant we went to for a wedding dinner in August is Mun Choong in Jalan Pasir Putih - still can't forget its special tasty dish of stir fried freshwater prawns, sublime gravy!)

The next morning, E's uncle took us to a coffeshop famous for its pork noodles, and it served only that. It's called Kedai Kopi Kam Hor in Ipoh Garden. Breakfast conversation included Ipoh-KL comparisons. In Ipoh, you can still get good hawker food with relatively large serving at RM4.00 on the average. In KL, you get not-so-tasty food at a minimum of RM4.50 or RM5.00 or more, depending on what you order. In Ipoh, the food is cooked and served by the stall owner and their relatives or local workers. In KL, the food is cooked and served by a foreign worker like an Indonesian or Myanmarese who also runs the stall with the stall owner not present. The stall owner is probably at another coffeeshop manning his 'main branch' of his hawker stall 'chain', or maybe at home putting his feet up in front of the tv! So, imagine how 'tasty' the KL nga choy kai see hor fun is when it's prepared by an Indonesian 'cook'!

Before departing for KL, we introduced E's parents and C to our newfound Ipoh kopitiam, Kong Heng, to have lunch.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Nature trek at FRIM

On Sunday, ACE and some friends went on a nature trek at the Forest Research Institute Malaysia in Kepong. After some basic research through their website and some info from a friend who had been there before, I called them and booked a guide earlier in the week.

Their guide service costs RM80 and they can take a maximum of 20 people. You can make payment and meet your guide at the one-stop info centre at building D6 after driving past the main entrance where you pay your entry fees. They recommend you start your nature walk at 9.00am.

Our guide, Encik Wahid, took our group of 10 on a walk through a nature trail and showed the kids interesting plants and animals. He described the names, features and uses of the plants. He told us of the different types of wood - strong (hard), medium and soft - that the trees provide, which could be used to make things from pencils, to furniture, bridges and railroad sleepers, for example, depending on the type of wood.

Did you know that we need two trees per person to have enough oxygen in the air (that's why we need to protect Mother Earth from over-development, logging and deforestation), and only about 25% of sunlight penetrates the forest?

Caitlin and friends on the trail

Along the trek, we saw unique plants, their flowers and fruit, a giant milipede, a centipede, a cicada (we heard them first before spotting one),and two forest crested lizards. We also saw scratchings on the ground at two separate areas made by wild boars in search of worms, according to the guide.

The fruit and flower of the sea poison tree (local name: putat)

The mud tunnel or mud tube created by the cicada nymphs as they emerge from underground where they've remained for 2-5 years (some species up to 17 years!)

The Crown Shyness Phenomenon - the leaves of the Dryabalanops aromatica (kapur/camphor) trees do not touch each other!

A giant millipede

After the one-hour trek, we proceeded on an uphill climb to get to the Canopy Walk. Although the distance was only 500m, it was a challenging climb through the forest, for us with 'old, creaky' bones and our city kids. But they took it all in stride despite complaining a little of tiredness, and getting impatient as it got steeper towards the top. Upon reaching the entrance hut of the canopy walkway, we sat for a short briefing by the people-in-charge -- no running, jumping, keep a distance of two planks (5m) between each person, no turning back, the maximum number of people allowed at each of the three viewing platforms, etc. The canopy walkway is about 30m above ground, or 300m above sea level.

Entrance hut of the canopy walkway

The 150-metre long suspension-bridge canopy walkway

After completing the 150m canopy walk, we then had to trek down another trail to get back to ground level and head back to our car. Along the trek downhill which was also quite steep and slippery at some parts, we came across a picnic area and a small waterfall.

The entire trek up and down plus walking on the canopy walkway took about two hours. By the time we got to our car, we were all soaked in perspiration, rather tired but happy we got to experience a jungle trek and walking among the treetops of a tropical forest. It was C's first such experience and she enjoyed and learned quite a lot.

If you wish to visit FRIM, check out their website for more info on the activities available. Besides nature trails and the canopy walkway, they have a picnic and camping site (C wants to go camping next!), a botanical garden, mountain biking trails, birdwatching and treasure hunt activities. You need to pay an entrance fee (RM5 per car with driver, RM1 per adult and free for kids below 12). The canopy walkway charges RM5 per adult and RM1 per child below 12. It is closed on Mondays and Fridays. Beginning, January 2012, FRIM will be increasing these fees. Non-Malaysians are charged a different (slightly higher) rate :(

Remember to bring insect repellant, drinking water, a camera if you wish to take photos, a small towel or wet wipes (to wipe off your perspiration!), and a change of clothes if you wish to feel more comfortable after the hike. It would be handy to have a small plastic bag too to collect whatever rubbish you have like used tissue paper/wet wipes, sweet/food wrappers so that you can discard them later properly in a dustbin, and not litter the jungle.

That's how ACE concluded the second week of school holidays. Another four weeks to go before we get back to routine and C goes to Year 4 in school.

There's still school books and Christmas presents to buy...