Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Penanging it"

October 27, 2009 (by Swiss)

Today marks the end of our five day stay on Penang Island – Georgetown to be exact. Georgetown, as it happens, is the second largest city in Malaysia after KL. It was established by the British based East India Company back in the day with the intention of breaking the Dutch Melaka's monopoly on the spice trade (Source: Lonely Planet), and turned into a bustling port. After the collapse of the British empire, it “wilted”, according to LP. Today it supposedly is the Silicone Valley of Malaysia, although we didn't really notice anything obvious which would earn them that distinction. Although a guy did mention yesterday that the city reminded him of SF (minus the hills), and Lawton discovered today that they charge a 10 sen garbage reduction fee for plastic bags. So perhaps the description is more accurate than we thought. Ok, History lesson over.

Arrival in Penang (Thursday October 22)
Given the 4-6 hour drive from KL, and us being cheap, we opted to take the overnight bus from KL as it would make time pass quickly (hopefully) and save us one night of lodging. 36 ringgit (NOT ringgits) bought us a 1am ticket on a pretty comfy bus (with wide, reclining seats), and four hours later we arrived at the bus terminal in Georgetown. It was at the bus terminal where we found Jeremy, our friend we had met in Melaka, sound asleep on a bench that looked rather uncomfortable. Lawton had been in touch with him via his cell phone, and since he had arrived at 3am, he opted to wait for us at the station so we could head into town together. The first city buses didn't start running until ~6:30am, so we spent a good 1.5 hours hanging at the bus station. Unbeknownst to us at the time, bus station “hanging” would be become somewhat of a theme during our stay. Walking was not an option given the location of the bus terminal and our heavy backpacks.

It is here that I think it's appropriate to mention that Jeremy has a one track mind – and that track involves food. As he proudly admits himself, his entire day is usually planned around food. Just take a look at Jason's Melaka post, and you'll catch my drift. So it came to no surprise that mission number one after getting off the bus was not to find lodging, but rather to head out for some dim sum. The food was very good, although I took some exception to the chicken feet that Jason “I eat dim sum and chicken feet with my co-workers all the time” Lawton just absolutely had to order.

Our 7am Dim Sum breakfast upon arrival in Penang

Hmmm...Chicken Feet @ 7am!

Shortly after “breakfast” we got to the Banana guesthouse, our base for the next couple of days. We discovered that an A/C room for four people could be had for a total of RM 60 (USD 17.6), and since Jeremy's friend Fred would arrive the next day, we booked it. A fan room for two people was available for RM 25, which is what Jason and I reserved as a lodging option upon the departure of Jeremy and Fred a couple days later. Oh, and the place had free wifi :)

Since the quality of sleep on buses/bus station benches is somewhat sub-par, we kicked on the a/c and all had ourselves a nice little nap. The intention was to reserve the afternoon for productive things, such as booking train tickets (Jeremy) and getting our Thai visa (Lawton and I) squared away.

Visas, more food and ferries
Fran, the nice lady we met on Tioman, had indicated to us that we could get a free 60 day tourist visa for Thailand on Penang, so that would be goal number one after a groggy awakening from our 2 hour nap. My feeble attempts at doing research online yielded nothing but confusion, so Jason made the, I hate to admit it, brilliant suggestion that we check downstairs at the hostel to see if they offer a visa courier service instead of us having to waste money on a cab (“Teksi”) and trying to figure out all the nitty gritty stuff. We were both willing to shell out ~RM20 for the convenience, and were absolutely stoked to find out they would take care of all the details for a nominal charge of RM 5 (just over USD 1). “Just come back tomorrow at 4pm to pick up your passports”, the guy at the counter informed us. And yes, it was that easy. So if you plan on doing a trip around this area, getting your Thai visa in Penang at the Banana guesthouse is THE way to go.

Since Jason and I had achieved our mission of the day, it was on to Jeremy's to do list. Item 1: Food. The goal was to find an Indian place that served their food on banana leaves, but we were somewhat unsuccessful in locating such an establishment. So we opted for some traditional south indian cuisine instead, which included chicken curry, mutton curry, and some very excellent daal curry. This food is traditionally eaten without silverware (read: your fingers), something Jason refused to do. Jeremy and I, however, both dug in using our right hand (don't use the left, that's a cultural faux pas). Jason stuck to silverware, which the place was happy to provide.

Swiss eats in an "authentic" fashion

Stuffed yet again, item 2 on Jeremy's list was to arrange train tickets to Bangkok for him and Fred. They are attending a wedding of a friend there. Apparently their friend is getting married to some famous Thai political figure (to the point that the couple supposedly were on the cover of the equivalent of Thai “People” magazine). Lawton and I both are keeping our eyes peeled for any news regarding some Canadian guy (namely Fred) making national or international headlines at the wedding. Just have a feeling, 'is all.

But I digress. The train departs from Butterworth, which is on the mainland and can be reached from Georgetown for free by hopping on a ferry. The return trip costs RM 1.20.

We hopped on the ferry from George Town to Butterworth

It was at the train station that we learned that all trains to Thailand were canceled due to some instability going on in the south of Thailand. Oh, and by instability I mean terrorism. So trains apparently are not the thing to take right now, which caused Jeremy and Fred to have to revise their plans. They now opted to fly to Bangkok, giving them an extra day in Penang. Lawton and I evaluated the option of taking a bus, but ultimately decided on taking a ferry to Langkawi island (I'm actually writing this on the ferry right now), spend a couple of days there, and then head onward via another ferry to Thailand. Going this route enables us to bypass the “unstable” portions and allows for a couple of lazy days on the beach. Ah, the joys of travel.

Upon return from the train station/ferry, we jointly sought some a/c, which as we've learned is best achieved by visiting the local mall. Jeremy wanted a snack, Lawton wanted a drink in a bag.
Snacks were bought at the mall where we scored some Chinese jerky (basically smoked pork – very tasty), and iced coffee/tea (“kopi peng/teh peng”) in a bag was procured from a street vendor near our guesthouse shortly thereafter.

Drink in a bag (tea with sweetened condensed milk) is delicious!

Following Jeremy's grand food plan, the evening would be spent at the gurney drive hawker center, where we ordered satay (grilled meat) and Pasembur. The entire market was awesome, with tons of vendors offering their food for sale. I would recommend you check it out if you ever come to Penang. After we had consumed our dinner, Jeremy discovered a stall offering a dish called “Gearbox”, which is apparently composed of various meats centred around some kind of bone-in-shank (would look like a gear shifter) and feeds 3-4 people. We were completely full already, but it did inspire Jeremy to try to return at a later date to try the dish. Below are pictures from dinner.

Gurney Drive night market

Our Satay being cooked

And a hearty plate of Pasembur to share

Although we had taken the bus to the center (after first waiting a good 15 minutes for the public bus and then opting for a local bus), it was decided to walk back to our room along the shore. This would allow some time for digestion as well as a quick look at the “Eastern & Oriental”, or E&O for short, hotel. It's basically an old colonial hotel where rich people stay. What was slated to be a 45 minute stroll turned into a 75 minute hike of sorts. But at least it gave us time to digest our food, and we did eventually get to the E&O hotel, where this lovely picture was taken.

Yup...we did eventually make it to the E&O Hotel

Just like Jeremy the night before, Fred had taken the night bus and arrived in the middle of the night. We woke up mid-morning, and Jeremy went off to try to find Fred as he apparently didn't manage to locate our room. A short 5 minutes later Jeremy returned with Fred in tow.

What next? Food, of course. Pic of Hokkien Mee below.

Fri. morning breakfast of Hokkien Mee

Friday would mark “tourist day” for us, which included a small tour of the city, visiting the Khoo Kongsi (clan house), and finishing with a visit to Cheong Fatt Tze's Panang mansion, aka the blue house.

Apparently the Khoo Kongsi is Penang's finest clan house, and gave us a nice little history of the Khoo clan. It was here that I learned a bit about the Chinese naming system, which involves the clan name first (Khoo), the generational name in the middle, and the first name last. The generational name is part of a poem, so you can track your generational name by looking at the family poem. A picture of the Khoo poem and the main clan house is shown below.

The Khoo Clan family poem

Swiss in front of the Khoo Clan Temple

More of the Khoo Clan Temple

It is here where I managed to get bestowed with an “Adult” sticker, something that just HAD to be documented.

Swiss's "Adult" admission sticker

With Fred having joined our team, we decided to splurge and go have a drink at the E&O hotel. Stuff was overpriced, but we did feel pretty colonial sitting outside, overlooking the sea, amidst palm trees, well kept grounds, and a pool. All went well, until Fred decided to go have a dip in the pool. Seeing how refreshed he was, I decided to dip my feet in the pool, which somehow caught the attention of the staff. “Sir, what room number are you staying in?”, a neatly dressed staff member asked me while Fred took an immediate dive under water. “312”, I guessed, which apparently was good enough for him as he didn't call for security. Maybe he noticed my adult sticker. But we did decide that it was probably a good time to leave.

The last tourist activity for the day would be a visit to the blue house. The tour was led by Eric, a very flamboyant Chinese guy with a stuffy British accent and corresponding mannerisms. The tour was done very well, explaining the rags to riches story of the owner, the history of the house, the architectural cues, and their relationship to Chinese culture. Definitely worth the RM 12 admission.

Outside the blue house after our tour

Although we did briefly stop for snacks before the visit to the blue house, real food was now in order. We had discovered a Ramly burger stand outside our guesthouse the night before, and since Fred had not had a Ramly burger yet, it would be said burgers for dinner.

Ramly Burger, Chulia Lane, across from the 7-11 and next to Banana Guest House

After consuming what was the best Ramly burger I've ever had (granted, I've only had two...but Jeremy said it was in his top 10 as well), it was off to meet Team England, who Fred had met at the bus station. Team England was composed of Sally and Caroline, who are visiting Malaysia from London. As it was Friday night, it would be a fun night of hanging out and checking out various bars in town. One item of note should be the “beer towers” that you can order here, which is basically a 3L beer dispenser with ice in the middle to keep the beverage cold. A nice way to split beers among a group of people, although after doing the math, not that great of a deal on a RM/Liter basis. But fun nontheless. Pics of beer tower and new found friends Sally and Caroline below.

Fred and the beer tower

Swiss and our new friend Sally

Caroline tries out a new local pose

Fred took off a bit earlier since he basically hadn't slept, while the rest of us returned around 3am for another Ramly burger, only to find out the guy had run out of supplies. Off to bed instead.

Hurry up and Wait
With Fred well rested, Saturday would be spent going to Penang Hill. Option 2 would have been the snake temple, but Jason wasn't too keen on the whole snake idea. So the hill it would be. But first, food.

Breakfast (including roasted duck)....

Or maybe this was Hokkien mee?!? Anyone wanna guess what this is?

...and after breakfast snacks:

Fred found some "Halo Kitty" buns

In order to get to Penang hill, one must first take a bus to the hill and then hop on two separate Swiss engineered funiculars (cable cars). As it happened, we had to wait almost a full hour for the first bus to arrive, an hour which was spent sweating at the non-a/c bus station. Once we arrived at the bottom of the hill after bus number 1, two crammed cable car rides got us to the top of the hill within about 35 minutes.

The views on top of the hill were decent, albeit a bit hazy given the humidity. We visited a Hindu temple and a bird park that among birds also had a snake and some scorpions on display. Pretty nifty and a good way to kill some time.

The view from the top of Penang Hill

Fred meets a snake...at the bird sanctuary of all places

And we met a scorpion there too!

The return trip would be less smooth, as there was an apparent delay with the cable cars. That, coupled with large weekend crowds, resulted in yet another 1 hour wait in line. Oh well.

Dinner plans were to return to Gurney drive with team England for Gearbox and other yummy food. Unfortunately, the gearbox vendor was out of gearboxes, so we all shared a smorgesboard of local foods, including stingray, fried oysters, laksa, a variety of deep fried items, and fruits.

The highlight, however, was the consumption of our first durian fruit. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Jason goes in for a piece

Tasting the piece of durian

Thinking about the durian I just ate

That face explains it all :)

The night was concluded by attending a Deepavali dance performance at a local park. We just managed to catch the end of it, but it was nice. After that it was off to bed, but not until Jeremy and Fred managed to consume yet one more Ramly burger from our buddy outside of the guesthouse. Lawton and I opted out due to bursting stomach syndrome.

The last dance at a Deepavali festival we caught

The house near where the Deepavali performance took place

The quest for the waterfall
Jeremy and Fred would depart early Sunday morning to fly to their celebrity wedding. Jason and I slept in a bit before moving to our non-a/c room that we had reserved earlier. Plans for the day would be to meet up with team England yet again and visit the botanic gardens, where, according to Caroline, there was an awesome waterfall.

The routine was standard by now: meet at the mall, go to the bus station, wait forever for a government bus, opt for the private non-a/c bus in lieu of time, pay one ringgit fare, get off the bus, walk 15 minutes to the gardens, discover that the local government run a/c bus would have dropped us off right at the entrance. But it was fun.

The gardens were nice, although the waterfall proved to be somewhat elusive. We think we found it, but I'm still not 100% sure. We also took a 2 ringgit tram tour, which was skip worthy in my opinion, but we were tired of walking and hoping for a breeze. Below is a pic of us getting our feet wet downstream of the waterfall.

Relaxing in the stream with Sally and Caro

A 45 minute wait for the bus would eventually get us on an a/c bus that brought us safely back into town, where we had some Indian food for a snack/lunch. The girls went off shopping, while Jason and I decided to pay a visit to the local chocolate shop after team England had suggested we do so. It was quite nice, and we got to sample most of the different chocolates they offered. Apparently they have a factory in KL. Doesn't beat Swiss chocolate, of course.

The evening would be spent resting our tired legs (the botanic gardens involved quite a bit of walking), eating a Ramly burger (seriously, they were super good), and having a couple of drinks with Sally and Caroline. They were to depart the next day for Langkawi, where we will likely meet up with them later this week.

Planning day
Which brings us to Monday, our planning and chores day. Lawton got his haircut, sent stuff back home via mail, and put some more credit on his cell phone SIM card (btw – SIM cards are super cheap here and definitely worth getting.) We also bought our ferry tickets for Langkawi for the following day. The rest of the day was spent surfing the web and brainstorming stuff to do in Thailand. It looks like quite a bit of time will be spent on islands, which is fine by me, especially since I really want to get some more dives in. Overall, we had a very nice and entertaining stay on Penang.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

KL…culture, food and relaxation

Arrival in KL

Sunday night we hopped off the bus about three blocks before arriving at the station proper because the line for buses to enter the terminal was blocks long and moving at a snails pace. Thankfully Johnny knew were we were staying (he’d stayed their previously and his place was only a block or so away) so he guided us to our place, Bedz KL, and we got settled in. We met him later to grab a quick tasty bite to eat at a local Indian restaurant. After that we came back to our place to enjoy air conditioning, the internet and catch some sleep. Swiss was excited about internet and it being early Monday morning in Asia, Sunday football was full on in the states and Swiss stayed up until 4am to watch the Saints game feed on ESPN (I was asleep hours earlier…zzzz)

Monday morning we met up with Johnny to walk towards the Petronas Towers and grab lunch at the food court there (we each had a tasty and filling lunch for under USD 3, quite impressive for a mall food court!) Swiss mailed a few items home to his mom and I got my watch fixed at the Swatch Store (If you know me, you know how I don’t deal well without a working watch!) Johnny took off for Thailand and we decided to relax in the late afternoon.

Monday night Swiss was on the hunt for a sarong and we had a recommendation that these were plentiful and cheap at the Chinatown night market in KL. So off we went but the shopping trip was unsuccessful, nothing that would’ve worked (the scarves they were selling seemed a bit revealing as a sarong!) We stopped to eat some street food and I had some delicious wanton mee.

Won ton mee...a favorite dinner

On the walk back home we passed a Ramly Burger cart and even though I was pretty full neither of us could help ourselves! Let me just say it’s worth a try when you’re here in Malaysia!!

The delicious Ramly burgers we had...one beef, one chicken

A quick side note…on the walk over to Chinatown we passed a Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurant, remember that Seinfeld episode? I couldn’t stop thinking of Kramer and had to grab this photo…

Kenny Rogers Roasters (I thought of Seinfeld)

Some culture and a trip up the oil towers!

Tuesday morning we were determined to be more productive and seem some sites in Kuala Lumpur. We were fairly successful! We headed over to the Petronas Towers thinking that we’d wait in a line (I guessed maybe an hour) but instead we waited 20 minutes in a line to get a ticket (Free at least!) to come back at 3.15pm for our trip up to the skybridge. So now we had some time to kill…it was 9.45am. We found a cab to head out to the Batu Caves. Now, this was actually the second cab. We had been told by some people and had heard that a cab out there should run RM10-20. The first cab offered to take us, roundtrip for RM80. We figured this was a tourist rip-off and searched for another cab and found a guy who was willing to take us with the meter (figuring this would be cheaper) Well all told the roundtrip, including one toll and parking and the driver waiting for 45 minutes (which he did not charge us for!) was RM81. So, just a quick note to future visitors.

That being said, it’s very much worth getting out of the city to see this site, it’s a beautiful Hindu temple set into a wonderful set of caves and the world’s largest Lord Muruga statue in the world! While there, on our way out we stumbled on a cock fight (OK, two cock’s attempting to assert dominance, I assume, but it made for a good picture) and Swiss couldn’t help but get involved. Enjoy some pictures from our visit!

The entrance to Batu CavesThe start of our climbThe view at the topThe main templeSwiss tries to get in on the actionJason at the top

Now having about 4 more hours to kill we head back to KLCC to get lunch and enjoy the mall air-conditioning! After lunch we wandered around and ended up in an electronics store where Swiss ended up in a massage chair with eye massage mask on…a pretty funny sight!

We stopped at the electronics store...Swiss ended up in a massage chair with massage glasses!

To Level 41…wait, only Level 41?!?!

So we finally arrived back ready to start our trip up the Petronas Towers and began with an informative Petronas video full of corporate propaganda about all the lovely things they do for life and the community. Now we had initially guessed we’d get to go to the top, but apparently you only get to go up to the sky bridge that links the two towers. It is the working corporate headquarters for Petronas, the private national oil corporation of Malaysia, with all floors occupied by Petronas for business and therefore visitors are only allowed to go up to the sky bridge at Level 41, although the building has 88 inhabitable floors, of which only 86 are used. It had a nice view, it was free, and we stayed up there about 10 minutes before being herded back down.

Petronas Towers, KLThe sky bridge at Petronas TowersView of KL from Petronas TowersView of KL from the sky bridgeDocumented proof we went up the towers

We headed back to the hostel to relax, catch up on the blog, etc when Swiss checked his checking account and found that the saga of Comcast continues!! I won’t bore everyone the details (I can’t quite follow it all between the final bill, the forward billing, the refund, the double refund through Visa, the stopped check, stopped check fee, etc) So let’s just say that Comcast is fairly incompetent in the accounting department, Swiss thinks he has it resolved and he was pretty pissed off that he had to spend an hour and a half dealing with it (I of course don’t blame him) On a side note…I picked up some Pringles to try a local flavor…Soft Shell Crab…

The most interesting Pringles flavor I've seen yet...Soft Shell Crab!!

Let’s just say that the flavor is an acquired taste!

What to do after Kuala Lumpur…

Wednesday morning we slept in a little, decided which city was next on the agenda for our journey. Our pick is the island of Penang up North, which also happened to be Jeremy’s next destination, so we’re meeting him up there. We headed to KL bus station to buy our ticket with the intention of taking a night bus and arriving early Thursday morning. I’m fairly convinced that there are only 2 or 3 bus companies in Malaysia, although there were at least 40 different ticket counters to buy from (each with a different company name up above) but all charge the same place with roughly the same schedules! Either way, it was RM36 for a ticket up to Penang from KL, about a 5 hr ride. With ticket in hand we were starving, headed over to Chinatown for a tasty lunch of char siew chicken mee soup and some dumplings! We hadn’t yet tried the train/monorail here, so we headed over to the train station to head back to KLCC (the local hotel told us that it’s the only movie theatre in the downtown area) and it was hot out, so we didn’t want to walk. We just missed the start of “500 Days of Summer” (my choice, but Swiss was thankful we missed it) and settled on the latest Bruce Willis dud, Surrogates. Now let me tell you, I’ve been carrying around a thick fleece since New Zealand and finally ready to ditch it to make room in the bag, so I was carrying that fleece around looking for a possible donation place (although seriously, who needs a thick fleece in Malaysia, but that’s not the point!!) Well that fleece came in handy since the movie theatre was like 65 degF!! Swiss was a little jealous :) On the walk home we ran into what I dub Alvin’s favorite new restaurant…enjoy this picture Alvin and Selah! :)

Alvin's favorite restaurant in KL ;-)

That’s about all for Kuala Lumpur. We’re taking the 1am night bus up to Penang and going to hang out there for a while, maybe a week or so (give or take) to get our Thai Visa and come up with some rough idea of where we want to go up there! Hope everyone back home in the states is doing well! Get those Halloween costumes ready :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The joys of Melaka…tea, roti and nyonya food!

19-Oct-2009, by Jason

Well Swiss managed to survive our bus ride to Melaka (as did I) and we were quickly deposited at Melaka Sentral, the bus station about 5km outside of the central town area. We were headed to a guest house recommended to us by someone we met on the beach on Tioman. While waiting for city bus #17 to arrive we were suddenly joined by Fred, our instant new acquaintance from Montreal, Canada. Now the person that gave us the recommendation assumed (as did I) that it’s address/details would be listed in our Lonely Planet guidebook. Of course it wasn’t listed in there and we only had a name to go off of and nothing else. Needless to day, Fred knew (kind of) where he was headed and so we followed him to his place, the Voyager Guest House. The place was centrally located in Chinatown, clean and only RM 12 per night (less than USD 3.5), we were sold (and had no interest in walking around any further) While waiting for Fred’s friend to arrive we walked over to the “Honky Tony Cafe & Bar” for a drink and appetizers before grabbing dinner as a large group. Yes, you read the name of the bar correctly, and the music was pretty bad (as was the beer selection) but I will say that the basket of chicken nuggets and fries we split as an appetizer were quite impressive! [On a side note, Swiss and I were very surprised at the price of a beer here. It was about RM 7.50-9 for a beer, not horrible but much higher than we were used to on the island. We later found out that our first stop in Malaysia, Tioman Island, is a duty free zone and alcohol is not taxed there as it is in the rest of Malaysia.]

So Jeremy (affectionately referred to as “Big Head” by Fred) arrived (with a young couple from Guangzhou he met on the bus from KL) and all 6 of us headed out for dinner. It was a tasty feast of soy oyster noodles (apparently a local Melaka specialty), a grilled fish, some spicy greens and deep fried fish cake…all served with diced garlic and sambal paste on the side, yum!

Chinese Dinner in Melaka

Now during this meal, Fred decided that he really liked sambal paste and put it on everything! To the point that when they were cleaning the rest of the restaurant (it was a late meal) they took our sambal paste off the table while still eating! Fred was looking for more and when the staff brought out a tub of it for him, the owner/manager jokingly asked if he wanted bread to make a sambal sandwich. When Fred said yes, the owner hopped on his scooter, drove to 7/11 and a little while later 2 slices of white bread were placed in front of him. He did the only sensible thing and rose to the challenge.

Our new friend Fred making a sambal sandwich

He finished…eventually, but not without the sandwich putting up a fight! Afterwards we were pretty tired, we grabbed a few beers at the local 7/11 and were just hanging out in the common area of the guest house when two Germans on bicycles came riding up to the front door and stole Fred (he strikes me as the type unwilling to follow a young woman ;-) They came back about 30 minutes later with a basket of more beer. Swiss had already gone off to bed but I was curious to see where this was headed, so we headed to the guest house about a block down and enjoyed a beer while getting to know 4 Germans, my new Canadian friends and a young Korean guy who’s also a commercial diver. At this point it was 4.30am and I was exhausted so I left Fred and Jeremy behind and went home to bed.

So you hangout at the mall in the middle of the day?!?

Saturday morning I was up fairly early (only a few hours after I went to bed) and was STARVING…so Jeremy took us to a local place that served chicken laksa for breakfast. Not your mother’s traditional American breakfast, but it was spicy, salty and delicious!
Individual bowls of chicken laksa to accompany the communal salad

At this point it was getting a bit warm, so Jeremy suggested we go to the mall. Apparently, it’s the thing to do in the middle of the day (say, between 11am – 1.30pm) and sure enough the mall was packed! We relaxed in the nice air-conditioning and promptly lost Fred and Swiss.  They then apparently went to the info desk hoping to be able to page us, but instead were asked to write down our descriptions so the CCTV guys could track us down.  Below is a pic of their description (including Drew Carey reference), although I managed to find them before the search escalated mall-wide:

Where to begin...

Later in the afternoon we headed to the Zheng He Tea House for a Chinese tea tasting. We met Pak, one of the owners of the place who gave us a FANTASTIC tasting!! We started with a nice green tea that was from Jeremy’s relatives home area in China then we had a pot of a very mellow and aged black tea…along with some general tea information and a healthy dose of our jokes mixed with Pak’s fantastic sense of humor! It was a great experience made even better since she only charged was for one pot of tea (although, at only RM20 for a pot of tea, it’s also a great deal!) If you’re even in Chinatown, Melaka, please stop by and see her!

Pak and Jeremy, tea ceremony at Pak's wonderful tea house!Chinese Tea Ceremony

After that much tea we headed back to the hostel to relax, where we met Christina (from Manhattan) and Winston (from LA). This was significant because a.) they’re pretty cool people and b.) they’re only the second and third American backpackers we’ve met on this trip (excluding American students studying abroad and folks just out on vacation!) Now Swiss, having heard that Jeremy is a whiskey drinker, wanted something other than beer and so they set off looking for a bottle…only to return with something called “Crazy Horse Whiskey” apparently a local offering. Let’s just say it was a little closer to diesel in my opinion - and trust me, I only tried a VERY small sample :(. 

The start of a bad idea by Swiss and Jeremy

Even more amusingly, Christina was the only person that could take a shot of Crazy Horse without a chaser, hehe :) Beer would therefore continue to be the beverage of choice for the evening.  The bottle remained at the hostel, where it miraculously was consumed by somebody, somehow. 

So after a little of that we headed off to the Jonker St Night Market (Friday and Saturday nights in Chinatown) It’s a fantastic array of vendors selling jewelry, cheap plastic toys, food and drinks…and a popular draw for tourists and locals alike…it was packed! We stopped by a stand to sample what I can only call various types of Shaomai (also known as shu mai back home) followed by a stop for oyster omelette and beer

Yum, oyster omelette!

Then it was off to another location along the night market for grilled squid and sea shells, also very tasty when dipped in spicy sauce (the order of the day here in Malaysia and I suspect in much of SE Asia!) We stopped at this location for quite a while to enjoy the locally brewed Carlsberg.

Grilled sea shells and grilled octopus

Well a beer and seafood turned into a few rounds of beer. No one from the shop came to remove our cans after delivering fresh beer (that’s right, this corner shop at the market was classy and delivered to our table!) and so the cans left on our table accumulated and got in our way. In order to conserve space, we went vertical (again, the staff was welcome to take them away at anytime, we just did what we needed to do to in order to conserve table space in cramped conditions!) Let’s just say that it was a sight most locals were not used to (a few children’s eyes were shielded) and our Malaysian local was slightly embarrassed. (But in the grand scheme of life, I’d say we’re much more polite, quiet and respectful than quite a few of the backpackers we’ve met!)

Tower Stage 4 may have made some locals cover their children's eyes

From there we stopped by a proper bar for a few more drinks where we were joined by Deutsche Mannschaft (Team Germany) and our American friends Christina and Winston.

More international relations

From there it was back to the hostel for some late night soccer on TV…and Christina and Winston stayed up until 4am to watch the NLCS Game 2 live on satellite TV…I on the other hand went to bed a few hours before that.

Recovery and some online catch-up

Saturday morning I awoke bright and early (and super chipper for some reason too!) and ready to take on the day. The rest of the gang not so much (in fact Fred did not even join us for breakfast) so we stopped by a local place for some curry chicken mee (delicious!) and I had soy bean drink [Hey SF friends, can I get this or something similar when I come back next summer? I very much enjoy it as a morning drink!] [Side note 2: Check out the Flickr album for a picture of Swiss’s breakfast, spot the cultural faux pas! :)]

Yum! Chicken Curry Mee and Soy Bean Drink...breakfast of champions!

From there I stopped by the “Orangutan House” the store of local artist Charles Cham to pick up a few t-shirts with his designs on them and Jeremy bought some paintings that were gifts for his parents. Now I forgot to mention that I bought a cheap (USD 6) watch the day prior at the mall to hold me over until I got to the Swatch store in Kuala Lumpur to get my watch fixed. The watch I’d bought the day prior was already not working, further proving the adage that you get what you pay for! :)

The watch I'd bought the day prior, already with the incorrect time!

We went to the mall again (hot mid-day) and to use the free wifi @ McDonald’s. Of course the wifi was not working, but we’d already ordered lunch…so check “tried McDonald’s in Malaysia”, now we don’t have to do that again here. Note, their menu is very similar to the US, their additions are fried chicken served with rice and chicken burgers. We then wandered around town, walked along the river and stopped for photos…

Swiss taking a picture of Jeremy taking a picture of the photo shot sign in front of the actual object

including a stop at the “concrete windmill” of Melaka. :)

All smiles in front of the concrete windmill

We headed to a Nyonya Restaurant for dinner (check out the wikipedia link) [Beef Rendang, more spicy greens, random veggies and sambal sauce squid for dinner] and then to the night market because I wanted some Ice Kachang with grass jelly and red beans. A light and tasty sweet dessert!

Dessert yum!! Shaved ice with condensed milk, dark syrup, grass jelly and beans

A random shot of me on the walk to the cafe owned by our guest house for some live music. We don’t know what it means but everyone else was stopping for a picture so I couldn’t help myself :)

Everyone else was getting a picture here

We then went to Voyager Cafe, owned by our guest house, for some live music. It was about 2 hours of live music and I had a tasty cinnamon tea. I don’t have a picture but Fred even jumped in for two songs! It was a very nice, relaxing evening!

Some travelers get in on the performance also

Who wants IHOP?

So sunday morning we were all leaving for different destinations (myself and Swiss, Fred and Jeremy and Team Germany) so we got together for breakfast about 10am. I was told by Jeremy that they (Team Germany) wanted banana pancakes and we were going to a “tourist friendly” place for breakfast, which I quickly labeled “IHOP” and was less than enthused. The Germans led us to a local Indian restaurant that served Roti Canai and Teh Tarik (a sweet hot “pulled” tea) and made for a very delicious breakfast of dipping fried dough in various curries! Rightly so, the Germans are exonerated from what I thought was going to be a huge mistake :)

Roti Canai for breakfast...yum!!

We stopped back at the hostel to pick up our bags, only to find that Game 2 of the 2009 ALCS had gone into extra innings so we all settled into watch the Yankees eventually beat the Angels.

Game 2 of the 2009 ALCS, about noon on Oct. 18th (about the 12th inning!)

Swiss and I, joined by Johnny, a cool guy from Canada we’d met at the guest house, headed north from Melaka on a 2.5 hour bus ride (FYI, the going rate is about RM 12) to Kuala Lumpur with. We’ll be spending a few days in KL then up north to Penang (to eat more! and also get our Thai Visa)