Monthly Archives: November 2012

Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho, A-Steamboating We Go

“Have you ever been to steamboat?” Voon asked me one day. Steamboat? I’d never heard of it before so answered with a negative. “We definitely have to take you then,” she enthusiastically replied.

Sure, what the hell, I thought. I’d survived camping among dingoes with no showers or toilets and jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, why not give this steamboating thing a try?

Well, it turns out that steamboat wasn’t as adventurous as I anticipated. It is the Malaysian equivalent to hot pot- or shabu-shabu-style cooking. In this interpretation, each person gets his or her own small pot of soup instead of sharing one large pot in the middle.

There were several different types of soup ranging from mild to spicy and flavored with shoyu or other ingredients. The pot is placed on a burner in front of each person, and then you turn the heat on to make the soup boil.

As the stock is simmering, you can order different meats from the server or select vegetables, fishcake and other delights off the conveyor belt of goodness. The meats, when they arrive, will be raw, just as the other ingredients are. When the soup is at a boil, you plop in your selections and let them cook in the stock.

The mixture of ingredients seasons the stock, and the more you add, the better it’s supposed to taste. For added deliciousness, there are different dipping sauces you can use on the side. Being Malaysia, many of these are of the spicy variety.

Voon and Beng took me to a place called Shabu Shabu, and some of the things I tried in my soup were fishcake balls, beef, chicken, lamb, mushrooms, choy sum, seafood dumplings and other miscellaneous ball-shaped things. Despite not knowing what these balls were made of, everything was scrumptious and I gorged like a pig.

The steamboat restaurant charged by the person in a buffet-like style so you could eat an endless amount if you could fit it into your belly. Also included in the price were drinks and desserts. For dessert we had ice cream. Any day that ends with ice cream is a good day for me.

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Filed under Food, Malaysia, Travel

Malaysian National Monument and ASEAN Sculpture Garden

Like all countries, Malaysia has participated in some military conflicts throughout the years and has built a war memorial for its fallen soldiers. Beng and Voon took me to the National Monument, which consists of a sculpture and centograph dedicated to those who died in Malaysia’s fight for freedom.

The sculpture is of soldiers who stand and support their fallen comrades while proudly flying the Malaysian flag above them. Felix de Weldon, who designed the Marine Corps War Memorial at Arlington, Virginia, USA, was the architect for the National Monument, and it is the tallest freestanding bronze sculpture grouping in the world. Engraved on the sculpture is the following tribute to Malaysians fallen soldiers:

Dedicated to the heroic fighters in the cause of peace and freedom. May the blessing of Allah be upon them.

Even though the setting for this stoic show of national patriotism seemed right, it didn’t stir up any emotions within me. The wide open spaces and water-spouting feature near the statue heightened the monument’s importance, but for some reason it still left me cold and unmoved.

Perhaps, it’s because I don’t know enough about Malaysia’s military history (or its general history for that matter) for which this monument exists? The dedication acknowledges the lives lost during the Japanese occupation during World War II as well as the guerilla rebellion during the Malayan Emergency. These are things that I sadly don’t know much about. However, my lack of historical knowledge didn’t stop the flood of emotions I felt in Canberra at the Australian War Memorial. The difference, perhaps, is that in Australia, the memorial feels alive because there are obvious signs of celebration and tribute paid there. Here in Malaysia, the monument is almost devoid of color and life. It’s as if no one remembers it or the lives lost, which is very sad.

After a somewhat indifferent experience at the National Monument, Beng, Voon and I walked over to the ASEAN Sculpture Garden, which featured many award-winning examples of southeast Asian artistry. The atmosphere here was much lighter and we were free to roam around the area. Some of the designs were a bit curious to me and I had no idea what they represented. Some statues had small placards with descriptions; others did not. But, I guess this is part of all artistic experiences as the piece of work is only as moving or inspirational as you make it.

As always, the humidity wrapped around us like a thick blanket and zapped us of our energy throughout the day. I know you’re probably tired of hearing me gripe about the heat here, but I just cannot comprehend it. There’s absolutely no breeze, and when you’re lucky enough to catch one, it blows around warm air. Your body is always damp with sweat unless you’re in air-conditioned buildings. In spite of this, people still dress in long-sleeved shirts, jeans and other cold-weathered attire even when they are not religiously compelled to do so. And, for the life of me, I cannot figure out how they look so refreshed when I am downright drowning in sweat. It confounds the mind. It really does.

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Filed under Attraction, Culture, Malaysia, Politics, Travel

Batu Caves: Where Religion, Monkeys and Tourists Collide

As I’ve traveled, I’ve heard many tales about southeast Asian temples from people who’ve visited the area, and Batu Caves lives up to all of their stories, monkeys and all. Located several miles north of Kuala Lumpur, the limestone caves are the site of various Hindu shrines in devotion to Lord Murugan. His golden-colored statue stands next to the 270-plus steps leading into the Cathedral/Temple Cave and is the largest Lord Murugan statue in the world.

Beng, Voon’s friend, joined us on the excursion out to Batu Caves, and as we stepped out of the taxi the size of the Batu Caves blew me away. Beng had mentioned that it’d be quite a hike up to the cave entrance, but this was ridiculous. The steps were steep and seemed to go on forever.

Despite this, we started our journey onward and upward, as they say, along with dozens of other tourists and religious devotees. Never before was I more thankful for having worked as a waitress and cleaned hostel rooms for 60-hours a week back in New Zealand than I was at this moment. All that hard work got me in shape and helped me reach the top when I would’ve otherwise given up.

Along the way, dozens of wild monkeys frolicked around us as they jumped from one side of the stairs to the other. Always in search of free food, the monkeys were bold and not afraid of people. Some monkeys ate fruits or drank milk off the ground as many people brought treats for them. Other, more aggressive monkeys, dashed toward people and snatched bags out of their hands. I watched as one literally tore the bag from a man’s hand, ripped open the bottle of milk and started chugging.

Having not brought any food with me, I felt quite confident that I wouldn’t be bombarded by a monkey horde and was able to enjoy their cuteness. I even found a mommy with a baby clinging to her body. It was just like something out of National Geographic. It was amazing how close they let us come to them and how close we were allowed to go. If this were America, we’d only get to see them from behind bars or through a thick sheet of glass. Too much potential for a lawsuit should anything untoward happen I suppose.

After a couple of brief (ahem) “photo stops” along the way, Beng, Voon and I finally reached the summit. The view was nice despite the cloudy haze on the horizon, and it was a long way down to where we began. It looked like rain was coming (or that could’ve just been the pollution around KL), but we had the cover of the caves to protect us.

The natural formations within the cave itself reminded me of something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The water-eroded cave walls and stalactites made me feel as though I was on an authentic expedition to some unknown part of the world. However, then the sheer number of people around me brought me back to reality.

As we continued farther into the cave, I saw small shrines nestled among the natural shapes in the rocks. Colorful statues of Hindu gods and goddesses decorated the shrines of various shapes and sizes. Deep within Batu Caves were full-sized areas of worship where Hindu monks carried out their religious practices. Beng mentioned that we’d just missed a large Hindu religious celebration during which time priests (although I’m not sure if that’s the correct title for them – swami maybe?) and worshipers congregated in the area.

Despite the smothering, always-present Malaysian heat outside, the caves were cool and refreshing. I was glad we made it out here today and that I was able to share it with friends. While I definitely enjoy traveling alone, having friends to experience things with makes it all the more memorable. Thanks Beng and Voon for a wonderful day!

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Filed under Attraction, Culture, Malaysia, Nature, Travel