Monday, December 29, 2008

Hong Kong International Airport

Hong Kong International Airport is known as Chep Lap Kok Airport by the locals, as it was built on the Island of Chep Lap Kok which was reclaimed for the project. Completed in 1998, it now handles almost 50 million passengers a year.

The old Hong Kong Airport was right on the island itself, and landing there was decidedly more exciting as at some point you seem to be flying right into the island. The runway extends into the sea, and on more then a few occasions aircrafts had overshot the runway and ended up in the water.

Chep Lap Kok Airport however doesn't hold such excitement. Designed by famous British architect Sir Norman Foster, it is covered in a sea of grey. I can never understand why grey is such an attractive colour for high-tech architects. It gives the place an overall "sameness" that can be disorienting.

Once when I was in transit to China, I went into a bookshop and was tempted to buy a book. As it was quite a heavy tomb, I decided to get it on the way back. While in transit I went back to what I thought was the same bookshop and looked for the book. For the life of me I couldn't find it, eventhough I was so sure of it's location in the shop. I later on found out that I was actually in another shop at a different end of the airport, and as it was the same chain it was done up in exactly the same way - down to the shelves and graphics. And because the airport looks the same from almost everywhere because of the overall greyness, I am sure this happens quite a lot !

The ceiling is one of the most interesting aspects of the design, with origami-like skylights which let in natural light.

The food hall is where some splashes of colours were allowed.

The main "fuselage" of the airport which connects to the departure lounges. There are long stretches without travelators so be careful with your flight time or you may end up having to run to the gate - as I did on one occasion.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hong Kong - Skyline

Since it's early days, Hong Kong has been one of the World's leading financial centres. Many people worried that after the handing over back to China in 1997, Hong Kong would lose it's lustre. But the "one country, two systems" policy promised by China seems to have worked so far, and it continues to thrive as an economic powerhouse. Of course it's political freedom has been curtailed somewhat - but in all other aspects of life it seems to be business as usual, and business is the main activity in Hong Kong.

Visiting Hong Kong is always an exciting experience. With 7 million people fitting into a tiny area, it is one of the most crowded cities in the World. The value of land is here is measured in the square inch !

Being a prolific movie capital of Asia, it is amazing how many films have used Hong Kong as a backdrop, and yet it never looks boring. When I visit, one of my favourite things to do is to spot the locations used in some of my favourite Hong Kong movies. It is also blessed with one of the most spectacular city skylines, easily viewed from Kowloon. 

Saturday, December 27, 2008

MV Doulos' Coming to Town

As a kid I used to get really excited when I heard that Doulos or Logos were coming to town. Doulos and Logos were sister ships which are run by a Christian charitable organization based in Germany. They are basically floating bookshops which cruise all around the world, docking at various ports selling books. Their mission is "BRINGING KNOWLEDGE, HELP AND HOPE TO THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD"

MV Doulos carries a crew of around 300, all volunteers from around the World. They stay on board for about 2 years, where they are assigned to specific jobs. And they sail around the World ! What a dream !

MV Doulos is docking in Kuching from 11th December to 2nd January. It opens from 10.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. weekdays and 2.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m. Sundays and Mondays.

The opportunity to board an actual cruise ship doesn't come by everyday, so it's a great experience for the young ones. BTW, the MV Doulos is certified by The Guiness Book of Records as "The World's oldest active ocean-going passenger ship"

The friendly crew entertaining young visitors.

The bookshop onboard. According to the flyer, Doulos carries about half a million books on board with over 6,000 titles. As I found out, they also have CDs. Be forewarned though, being a Christian ship most of the titles they carry are Christian books. However, there is a good selection of books and materials for children.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Everyone !

Christmas in Malaysia is not as big as in Singapore or Australia, but all the shopping centres still wouldn't miss this important shopping season for their life, especially during this downturn when everyone is tightening our belts. They will pull out all stops to try and entice us to open our wallets. 

Still, it is possible to enjoy the season without splurging. Have a nice homecooked dinner, put on a nice Christmas movie, get nice sensible presents for the kids - maybe a Christmas tree and you're good to go !

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year !

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Eating in Kuala Lumpur - Yeoh's Bah Kut Teh in Klang

Bah Kut Teh is a very popular hawker dish in Malaysia and Singapore. There are a few versions of how this famous dish started. The most credible seems to be the Klang version. Klang is a seaside town near Kuala Lumpur which has since become an important port for Malaysia. Legend has it that a gentleman from Quanzhou brought this dish to Klang, having learnt the secret recipe from a chef over there. This hearty herbal soup was very popular with the port workers, they ate it with plenty of rice to give them energy for their strenous work. 

One version of this story goes futher to explain the origin of the "Teh" in Bah Kut Teh. Bah Kut is basically Chinese for pork ribs. "Teh" in Chinese means tea. But there is no tea in Bah Kut Teh, besides the tea which is normally served alongside. So where did the "Teh" come from ? Well, this version of the story says that the gentleman from China who brought the recipe to Klang was named "Tay". Customers used to call him "Bah Kut Tay" as his shop was very popular. In time, it became Bah Kut Teh !

Bah Kut Teh is basically pork ribs in a rich herbal soup. The herbal soup is made by boiling pork bones together with Chinese herbs and soy sauce. The pork ribs and other ingredients such as pork meat, offals, tougues, etc. are usually cooked separately and added to the broth before serving. Pork liver, kidneys and fresh pork are sometimes added, as per the customer's preference.

Klang is no doubt the centre of Bah Kut Teh. There are over 500 shops selling this popular dish, and on weekends folks from all over Klang Valley make a beeline to this port town for their weekly treat. Different people have different preferences - taste is very personal, so it is hard to say which shop serves the best Bah Kut Teh. A friend took me to Yeoh's Bah Kut Teh in Klang, a very popular but hard-to-find outlet as it is tucked away behind an old building and not in a normal shophouse. 

The Bah Kut Teh here is one of the best I have tried. The herbal taste is quite subtle, with the soy sauce more pronouced. There is a nice balance of saltiness and sweetness from the pork meat. They are also famous for their stewed pork knuckle. The skin has been removed, and the knuckle stewed in soy sauce till tender and full of flavour. Taken with rice and a chili and soy sauce dip, this bak kut teh is a real treat !

The obscure backlane leading to Yeoh's Bak Kut Teh.

The Bak Kut Teh.

Side order of pork ribs. You can also order other side dishes of offals, pork liver, kidney, etc.

The stewed pork knuckle.

Eating in Kuala Lumpur - Charn Kee Tasty Corner at Jalan Alor

Jalan Alor has become renowned as the "Food Street" in Kuala Lumpur. Located right in the city centre, running parallel to the popular Jalan Bukit Bintang, this short street is packed with coffee shops and restaurants serving Chinese dishes and hawker food. It is popular with the locals as well as visitors who have discovered this food haven. Busy during all times of the day, it really comes alive at night when the street hawkers open for business.

Visitors to Jalan Alor would no doubt have come across Charn Kee Tasty Corner, a coffee shop famous for it's noodle soup with fishballs. The fishballs here are really good, handmade and with just the right texture that is not too firm or too soft. The extra taste comes from some additional ingredients which I think includes a dried and roasted fish powder normally used by the Chinese to season soups. 

The most popular dish here is the claypot fishball noodle soup. They also serve "lum mee", tomyam seafood noodle, and Nonya curry noodle. For your first visit you should definitely try the claypot fishball noodle. The soup is really tasty - made with very good seafood stock, and filled with bits of seafood, fishballs and topped with bean sprouts and fried shallots. The Nonya curry noodle is also very good. The sauce is more soupy then the traditional Nonya curry, but is still very aromatic. You should get a side order of the special fishballs and dumplings. The fishballs are bigger then the ones served in the noodle soup, and really tasty.

The coffee shop from Jalan Alor, and the interior.

The claypot fishball noodle soup.

Nonya curry noodle.

The side order of special fishballs and dumplings.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Eating in Kuala Lumpur - Essence at Hotel Imperial

This is our third meal courtesy of the Starwood Privilege Membership. This time I did have to pay for it, but the damage was reduced by a RM 75 voucher, and 50% discount using the card. All in all a buffet dinner for 2 at a 5 star hotel for around RM 80.00, not a bad deal.

Essence is the coffee house at Hotel Imperial Kuala Lumpur. Imperial is an older 5 star hotel, but given a facelift recently. It is still one of the top hotels in town, but location wise not as convenient as the ones in Bukit Bintang. 

The look of Essence is modern Asian, with a strong colour palette. Red is used quite prominently, giving it a strong Oriental vibe. As with most modern coffee houses, the kitchen is visible from the dining area. Buffet lines are placed outside the show kitchen counters, with different stations for different types of cuisine.

The buffet dinner comes with a free flow of red or white wine, tea and coffee. The cooked dishes were all quite good, so was the cold deli section. One of the stand-outs was the chicken satay which was done to perfection. As in most hotel buffets, the highlight is usually the desserts , and Essence doesn't disappoint in this area. The dessert section is given it's own exclusive corner, with a beautiful spiral-shaped counter. All the desserts were done to a very high standard. The problem was knowing when to stop !

The spiral-shaped dessert counter.

Fresh oysters, prawns and other goodies.

Baked oysters, beef steak, salmon and baby octopus.

Nice desserts.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Eating in Kuala Lumpur - Eest at Westin KL

Another nice meal courtesy of Starwood Privilege Membership. This time it's Eest at Westin Hotel.

Eest is a "Pan-Asian" restaurant which brings together the cuisine from several Asian cultures including Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and Malay flavours under one venue. The interior design is truly stunning - a modern interpretation of Asian elements which is done to a very high standard of finish. There is a main dining area next to the open kitchen, and private rooms at another side. Actually there are several open kitchens for preparation of different orders from the pan-Asian menu. 
The really beautiful interior.
We went for the Dum Sum Brunch which is served on Saturdays and Sundays. This is an "eat all you can" concept from the dim sum menu, which has quite a wide selection. As expected, the dim sum is not as good as at specialty dim sum restaurants. It's missing one of the key ingredients - pork, as this is a Halal establishment being in a hotel. Having said that, most of the items are really quite good. The pastry and fried items were generally more successful then the steamed items.
The complimentary starter was great- a selection of mini-items from all over Asia.
One of the highlights was the Chee Chiong Fun with black cod. These are flat rice noodles wrapped with black cod inside, served with a sweet soy sauce. The pieces of black cod were sweet and succulent, and the texture of the rice noodles were just right, not too soggy and still with a bit of firmness to the bite. Just great !
The sweets are definitely the star here. Clockwise from right - green tea mochi icecream; bubur cha cha - a sweet soupy dessert with coconut milk, chunks of sweet potato, yam, tapioca jelly and sago pearls (this one was just like what mum used to make); poached pears in sweet tea broth, and mango pudding. The mango pudding was so good we had to have seconds ! It was topped with a sweet cream and black olive tapenade. The slightly bitter olive balanced off the sweetness of the pudding perfectly. This was an unusual combination which really worked.
As an extra treat, we bumped into famous Aussie Chef Christine Manfield giving a special cooking demonstration to a group of lucky foodies. She looked exactly liked in her photographs - clean, sharp and efficient. Like a good kitchen knife !