Thursday, December 31, 2009

Once in a Blue Moon

Did anyone else catch it last night? "What?" you may ask. The Once-in-a-Blue-Moon phenomenon.

Apparently, the moon is not blue. It rather refers to the fact that two full moons rarely occur within the same calendar month, since a lunar cycle is ~29.5 days, and months average 30 days. With a full moon already having occurred 2 December, and one occurring last night (31 December), we will not see another Once-in-a-Blue-Moon for another 2 1/2 years (August 2012), and not another Once-in-a-Blue-Moon on New Year's Eve until 2028. Set your alarms now!

Apparently, according to my source, the expression comes from a 1528 book published in England, that had the following reference:

"If they say the moon is blue, We must believe that it is true."

Well, as you can see, the moon -shot out my back door- was blue for me.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

School Vacation. Visitation Time.

December is the major school break vacation and, thus, is one of the best times to visit people. In addition to June, December is when many weddings get scheduled, despite the rainy season being in full force. This particular December has been the rainiest that I can remember in my ten years of living on the east coast.

I was invited to the wedding of the sister of a former colleague of mine. It was fortunate in that that particular day was not raining, and the wedding was held outside under a canopy in the compound of my former colleague's house. I went with a Korean friend of mine, who after two years of living in Kuala Lumpur had never attended a Malay wedding kenduri before. In fact, this was his second kenduri, his first being in November when he visited me and I brought him to the wedding of a former student of mine. We had trouble finding the house because there were two other wedding kenduris occuring in the same neighborhood, and we started out attending one of the other ones first before realising, I didn't know anyone!

Since the bride's family was hosting this kenduri, the groom and his family came marching down the street at the appropriate time. Wedding couples always color coordinate their outfits, and the men usually have the ceremonial kris knife tucked into their wedding songkat.

I get on very well with my former colleague's children, and they call me Uncle as is the fashion of Asian children. The children were also color coordinated, with the three siblings in sea-green bajus while their cousins wore lime green. As the parents were busy being hosts, my Korean friend and I allowed the children to entertain us with their karaoke set. It is funny watching an 8-year-old singing songs above love found and lost!

Weddings are the not only excuses available for visitation, and I took the opportunity on December 25 to play Santa Claus and bring presents (story books) to the children of colleagues and former colleagues. Malays openly admit that theirs is not a reading culture so I, as a teacher, feel that giving story books is appropriate. The love of reading must be inculcated in children at an early age, and reading ability is the major factor in determining academic success.

Finally, this holiday season also found me visiting a Malay friend who had to spend several days in the hospital getting his feet cleaned. He is diabetic, and the rot has begun to eat away his feet. He feels fortunate, however, since the germs (kuman, as he calls it) have not yet infected his feet. In the bed next to him was an unfortunate soul who had to have his leg amputated below the knee, and then a few days later above the knee. I took photos for my friend to keep in case he wants to make an appeal to the welfare office, but felt that the photos would not be appropriate blog material. Lucky you.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rained Out (East Coast Monsoon)

The August-December semester is over now, carry-marks given, final exams sat for, invigilation ended. I forgot to take photos of the invigilation exercise, but can do so again in May. Right now, I want to show what happens when a scheduled event gets rained out. Monsoon rained out, that is.

On Saturday, 5 December, our college's Student Affairs Department (Hal Ehwal Pelajar) had a scheduled event: the Annual Beach Run, with assorted activities for children. One may wonder why schedule a beach run for the middle of the monsoon season, since the Beach Run has been held in July or August in the past.

(Left: Breakfast buddies waiting out the rain; activity tents in background)

Well, you must realise that the school year is nearly over, and the HEP had little to show for activities for this year. Thus, they felt that they had to schedule something before 31 December whether it made sense or not. And, of course, lecturers were required to attend (diwajibkan). It didn't matter that 95% of the lecturers did not show up; as the resident white guy, I would have been noticed by my absence. So, on went the jeans (rolled up), rain jacket, flip flops and umbrella, and on through the swampy puddles slogged I to the park to find a group of male lecturers -my breakfast buddies- waiting out the rain in the nearby food stalls.

(Photo right: We were the only customers.)

As you can see over the top of the lecturers' heads, a group of tents covering part of the parking lot. This is where the activities for the school children were to be held. And beyond the tents, you may be able to see white ocean waves crashing up under the Casuarina trees. Yeah, that's the beach. Beach Swim would have been a better title this year.

After several cups of Milo, and checking with the female colleagues who had brought their children to the tents, things kind of drifted to a pre-mature close, and I slogged my way home. As a former hydrologist, and current civil engineering lecturer (including hydrology), it is rare for one to see what is called overland runoff (air larian permukaan). I got some photos of this phenomenon, with water running off the land and sidewalk, where it had been pooling, into one of the park's ponds. As can be seen in the photo, all drains were running to capacity.

Upon reaching home (I live within 5 minutes of the park), I took a measure of the rainfall intensity, which had let up quite a bit by that time. I measured ~16 mm/hour (0.6"/hour), which is not that impressive of an intensity until one realises that this is an intensity that can go on for hours, even days, at a time.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nikko Hotel: Fountains Everywhere

As stated in the Low Yat post, I was sent to KL this past week to meet the representatives from a European university. The occasion was one of those ubiquitous Business Opportunity Seminars cum Networking sessions, which attempt to pair foreign businesses with locals. Only one university was being represented, and my boss wanted me to explore potential collaborative opportunities.

The event was hosted by the Nikko Hotel, a Japanese-owned and run hotel that is one of the classiest in KL. My colleague and I, however, did not stay there since prices are premier also.

Meetings are meetings and not that interesting to you, casual reader, so I decided that it would be more interesting to tell you that the Nikko Hotel and some nice fountains.

Outside in the back, was a waterfall dropping into a pool, complete with wooden walk-ways, Japanese koi fish in the pool, and plenty of greenery. Falling water produces white noise that is at once both evident, but also soothing. I would rather listen to white noise, than city traffic, with is intermittent, forcing one to listen. White noise just sits politely in the background, and masks tinnitus, a ringing sensation within our ears.

Inside, the dining area included a chocolate fountain, and this was quite the hit with us diners. One is to take a wooden skewer and impale a choice of fruits before dipping into the fluid chocolate. With strawberries as one of the fruit choices, there was no reason to go with anything else. Real cream ice cream was also available.

Finally, the meat station was also quite popular. A couple of the European visitors, probably less adventurous in their eating habits, spent the bulk of their grazing energy at the meat station, with roast beef the main choice. I tried a little bit of everything that is not common in Malaysia (seven choices of cheese!), and still ate too much.


Low Yat Plaza

After a few boring, but busy weeks teaching class and marking exams and tutorials, I finally had the opportunity to escape the daily routine. My boss asked me to make a trip to KL to meet the representatives from a European university. Since I was in the market for a new camera, I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to visit Low Yat Plaza for some serious shopping.

Low Yat Plaza is the premier shopping mall for electronics in Malaysia. It is so popular that it has its own online forum for people who want to discuss the latest tech issues and electronic gadgets.

Low Yat is located near the Imbi Plaza stop on the KL Monorail system. It consists of several floors of electronics, with cameras on the bottom few floors, cell phones in the middle floors, and computers on the top floors. My colleagues, especially the computer science lecturers, all use Low Yat for their shopping needs, and we often go together on our rare visits to the capital city.

I was in the market for a new camera, and I found what I was looking for at a price a bit lower than that in my hometown (which also has limited selection). These two friendly Malay shop assistants were quite helpful, partly because I could chit-chat with them in Malay. In fact, one told me that it was "cute" hearing me, a white guy, speak Malay. I suppose the bulk of the orang putih they meet cannot use Malay and the salesmen have to use English, which isn't the most popular language in the world. (Most used by necessity, not choice.)

Whatever the case, Low Yat is the place to visit in KL if you want the largest selection of electronics, but do not expect the prices to be much lower than elsewhere. There is a myth that abounds amongst the backpacker crowd that Asia is the place for cheap electronics, but that is mostly untrue. Expect to pay about the same price. The internet has made it too easy to compare prices and order from the retailer (e.g. with the lowest prices.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Diwali 2009

One distinctive about Malaysia is that the festivals of four major religions are celebrated and respected in a national attempt to promote and live in harmony.
On 10 October, Diwali (Deepavali in Malay) was celebrated by Malaysian Hindus (mostly Indian) and some students at my college were given permission to lay out a Kolam, or Rangoli, in the entrance foyer of the college's main building. The difference between the two, I guess, is that a kolam is made using coloured rice, while a rangoli uses coloured powders. Unlike past years, our college did not take time off (since it was on a Saturday) but normally at least one day of vacation is given.

The Indians make up a very small percentage of Malaysia's population (less than 10%), but they are disproportionately represented in the numbers of lawyers, doctors, teachers, and book-sellers. Most Indians in Malaysia are Tamil, either from Tamil Nadu in India or from Sri Lanka. They serve the best food -better than Chinese, Malay, or Thai- and are typically quite adept at languages, most being fairly fluent in Tamil, English and Malay.

With a couple of Tamil colleagues assisting, I have learned exactly five words in Tamil. The Tamil students are always impressed when I greet them in their native language, but of course I should learn more words. At this time, however, I am still working on my Malay.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Malaysia Makes Forbes Magazine Top Ten Retirement Spots

Forbes magazine just released their annual Top Ten Foreign Retirement Destinations. Here is the list:

1. Austria
2. Thailand
3. Italy
4. Panama
5. Ireland
6. Australia
7. France
8. Malaysia
9. Spain
10. Canada

Here is what they had to say about Malaysia:

Exotic mix of Chinese and Islamic culture, welcoming to retirees, low costs and spectacular coastline make Malaysia a strong contender for the budget-conscious seeking a retreat, but also increasingly for the wealthy wanting an Asian tax haven. Kuala Lumpur is not the easiest place to live in, but, for health care reasons, avoid straying too far into the beautifully remote islands.

Downside: racial tensions and emerging-nation infrastruct

I am puzzled by the "emerging-nation infrastructure" dig. I don't know what is missing that would give Malaysia a developed-nation infrastructure.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Student Day at De Rhu Beach Resort

Once a semester, the lecturers in my engineering group (civil) organise a day of activities for our students. This month we went out to the beautiful grounds at De Rhu Resort, just 15 minutes north of Kuantan. De Rhu easily has the largest and most beautifully landscaped pool of the beach resorts in the Kuantan area. It is designed like a large snake, with water ranging in depth from 1.5m to 0.5m in sections for children. I used to go swimming 2-3 times each week and loved to loll about in the water listening to the morning bird choir.

(Left: Female students WITH tudong)

A typical student day really only lasts for half a day, but consists of (1) activities; (2) food; and (3) funny photos. Young adults (girls) like the two-finger V sign, especially beside the eyes. Also, for some unknown reason, the tudong-wearing girls posed separately from the non-tudong-wearing girls. Mysterious, women are they.

(Right: Female students WITHOUT tudong)

Activities this time consisted of forming into eight groups of 9-10 students each. Groups competed against each other in a gunny sack race, pulling on a sled race, three-legged race, and etc. One race that I had never seen before consisted of them throwing a large die (singular form of dice) and taking 1, 3, or 5 small steps backwards if an odd number were thrown; and 2, 4, or 6 large steps forward if an even number were thrown. Despite having shorter legs, a group of girls won this one (their two male team-mates lazily refused to participate) because they threw the number 6 three times in a row.

(Left: Ski board race)

The winners of each activity won a hamper, a typical door-prize or award here in Malaysia. A hamper consists of a stack of goodies (packages of cookies, snack items, drinks) wrapped in plastic. With the potential of nearly one hamper per team member (8 hampers, 9-10 members), the motivation was strong to win in each event. At the end, one group won three hampers, and the other five were split amongst three other groups. Of course, to even things out, my female colleagues had prepared hampers for The Most Cooperative Group, The Most Creative Group, and The Most Attractive Group. These went to groups that won NOTHING in the competition. Yes, political-correctness has made it to these shores also.

Other than having a fun time interacting with my students OUTSIDE the classroom (important for building rapport for WITHIN the classroom), I also came away with a very bright-red sunburn on my neck and lower arms. Ouch! Forgot the sun lotion again.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

No earthquakes, no tsunamis, just BIG clouds...

October 1, and China is celebrating their 60th National Day. This week there have been earthquakes in American Samoa and Sumatra, tsunamis in Samoa, and a tropical cyclone over Vietnam. But I am safe, since I am none of those places. I am in Malaysia, where we are only getting BIG clouds on these searingly-hot afternoons.

(Left: Cumulus building over South China Sea)

Walking home this afternoon, I enjoyed watching a very large cumulus cloud building up over the South China Sea. These two photos do not do the cloud justice since the photo is only a two-dimensional medium. One has to be on the street looking up into the awesome three-dimensional object to appreciate truly its scale of grandeur and beauty.

I could bore my readers with technical details about cumulus clouds, but basically the term means "heap" or "pile" in Latin, and it looks like puffs of cotton heaped up into a massive pile. Cumulus form on hot afternoons, and is a way for heat to be dissipated and moved around in the atmosphere. Much of the heat goes into evaporating water from the ocean surface, which then rises and cools, becoming visible water vapour. As it rises and cools further, droplets of ice water form on things called aerosols: tiny bits of sand, salt, dust, etc., that provide the nucleus around which the water vapor can condense. The tropics are ideal for the formation of cumulus clouds for there is ample supply of heat, water (ocean surface), and aerosols (airborne salt particles).

If a cumulus cloud picks up enough moisture, it can build up to great heights and transform into a cumulo-nimbus cloud, that brings lightning, thunder, and heavy rains.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


The week-long Hari Raya holiday is coming to an end this weekend. I have had time to come up with an interesting post, but lethargy set in and all I can produce is this series of cloud pictures. When I was a child, sometimes all it took to enjoy a nice summer day was to lie in the cool grass and watch the clouds. Why shouldn't it be different as an adult?

(Right: Cumulonimbus building up over South China Sea)

The most dramatic clouds usually are the cumulonimbus, which are those associated with thunderstorms and heavy rain. Living within a few hundred meters of the South China Sea, we typically get cumulonimbus clouds building up during the daytime and realise nighttime thundershowers. These clouds build up from convective cells of air in motion, and draw the moisture up from the ocean, moving inland in the late afternoon. The bases can start as low as 200 meters from the ground, reaching up to 16,000 meters in height. Often-times the tops are pushed sideways forming a distinctive anvil-shape.

Another type of cloud that appears on quite hot and still days are the cirrus clouds, which tend to form at higher altitudes (>8,000 metres) than the bases of cumulonimbus, where there is less moisture, thus, making them thin and wispy.

A famous, or not-so-famous, philosopher once said: "It seems to me that man is truly not free unless he can sometimes just sit and DO NOTHING." If watching clouds = DOING NOTHING, then I guess that I am free.

(Cirrus clouds)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Those Lazy Jerebu Days of Summer

For those who consider the tropics to be a paradise, here are two facts:

1. Vegetation grows fast here;

2. Some residents seem to live to burn that over-zealous vegetation. The result? Open-burning.

Of course, the sky these days is hazy (Malay, jerebu) mostly from the burning of the forests in Kalimantan (slash-and-burn agriculture), the Indonesian state on the island of Borneo which is, oh, several hundred kilometers across the South China Sea from those of us here on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Or it could be from the burning of the peat forests to the south of us, along the coast. Or it could be the countless fires set in yards everyday to burn little piles of leaves that have been raked up or cut from the aforementioned overzealous vegetation.

Whatever the case, here are some side-by-side photo comparisons to show you what the skies look like now. The ones on the left were taken this week. The ones on the right are from April of this year. Both sets were shot from the same position in the same direction, thus, making accurate side-by-side comparison.

I am sensitive to smoke, so these days give me a headache, literally. It is quite amazing what one sees being burned daily by local residents:

1. Newly cut (green, moist) vegetation [don't they know green = smoke?];
2. Small piles of leaves, I mean SMALL piles [cannot compile into one weekly burn?];
3. Baby diapers;
4. Plastic chairs;
5. Newspapers soaked in used motor oil;
6. Old couches;
7. Construction debris;
8. Tree stumps.

The old couches are the worst for they put off a very toxic and stinky smoke: plastic does not burn clean and releases toxins within the smoke. Used motor oil does also. The tree stumps and construction debris gets burned nightly until they are gone. This is also quite stinky for it is slow-burning and thus releases smoke all night long for days to weeks on end.

Come monsoon season, come quickly!!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Fasting Month

The fasting month of Ramadan (known as Bulan Puasa) is from 22 August to 20 September this year. Today is the middle of the fasting month: two weeks down, two weeks to go.

For a partially-fasting foreigner, this is an interesting time of year for the changes in social relations that occur. Colleagues with whom you are used to having tea with every morning are seldom to be seen, while the people sitting close to your cubicle seem more accessible, since they are not off having breakfast or lunch with their mates. People also tend to be grumpier.

One hobby of mine is to observe the cheating that goes on by those who are supposed to be fasting. Yesterday I was at a foodstall having my lunch when four men of a certain race entered the stall and ordered takeout rice meals (styrofoam containers). Since I was only at the stall for 15-20 minutes, the probability is high that many other men of the same race did likewise.

(Right: Ramadan "fasting" trash from well-known takeout window)

Again, this morning, I observed the same thing when I went to the local shop to buy the morning newspaper. A van full of men of this particular race pulled up to the shop and purchased take-out rice dishes. Typically, they go to secluded places where they can eat and dump the trash in peace.

Certain restaurants have back-rooms in which these types of men are seen to enter, followed by plates of food a few minutes later. Since restaurants can get in trouble for selling food to them, it is best not to point out which ones do this. (I mean, why punish the cheaters; easier to punish the restaurants, right?)

My understanding is that the religious law to be followed by these people is that one does not need to fast if: (1) a female on her monthly mense; (2) a pregnant woman; (3) an invalid; or (4) people traveling far from home. Considering that men tend to be the most-likely-to-eat then they must be far from home (hahahahaha).

Of course, as a foreigner, one is really supposed to be like the famous See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil monkeys.

I call myself a partially-fasting foreigner for I follow a simple rule: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Since open foodstalls are hard to find during the fasting month (unless you are a man of that particular race!), I fast on the days in which I work and cannot take a lunch break (less than one hour). That tends to be Monday through Thursday. On the other days, I do not fast since I am usually at home with my wife. Part of this stems from the fact that I want to feel what my students feel. Empathy is one of the greatest traits of a good teacher; i.e., the ability to use common sense in dealing with students.

Going without food for one meal is no big deal. What is hard is the foregoing of water during the day, especially given the humidity and fact that I have to lecture for several hours each day.

I do not look down on those who cheat on their own religion, however, since I consider that what religion should be concerned with is to look after widows and orphans, and to keep oneself from being polluted by what one takes in through the eyes and ears. Thus, we are not talking about food or drink here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Summer vacation is over with school starting last week. I have to teach 25 hours per week this semester, as opposed to only 16 last semester. A female colleague in our department is taking her two-month maternity leave at this time (it was a boy) and that means that the rest of the lecturers have to take up the slack, teaching her classes while she gets the pay cheque. Just part of the routine in this family-friendly environment.

One of the pleasant surprises in our neighborhood is this pair of hornbills that live within the area. They are often seen sitting in tall trees, on light posts or power wires, as they search for free food. One neighbor puts out fish-infused rice for both local birds and his 30 cats, but the hornbills seem to be more interested in the papaya tree that grows below this lampost upon which they often sit.

There are actually several different species of hornbill in SE Asia. Our neighbors appear to be the Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris), which are not as showy as the Rhinoceros Hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) found in Sarawak (Malaysian state on island of Borneo). Hornbills mate for life, and seem to be personable in that they are often squawking at each other from separate trees, like a middle-aged couple arguing. My wife has decided that the hornbill is our family symbol.

I lately came to learn that the hornbill (Enggang in Malay) is a symbol for royalty in Malaysia. There is a Malay proverb that goes like this:

Enggang bersama enggang; pipit bersama pipit.
The hornbill is with the hornbill; the sparrow is with the sparrow.

At first I thought that it meant only that "Birds of a feather flock together", meaning that Malays will tend to be with Malays, Chinese with Chinese and so forth. But after experiencing class differentiation (rich versus poor), I have come to understand that the proverb mostly means that high-class people (royalty) should hang out with other high-class people, and that low-class, commoners, should stick to their group also.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Epiphytes Revisited

Back in June I posted a couple of photos of some epiphytic ferns growing within trees at the Lis Na Ree resort at Kampung Sungai Ular. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants (usually trees) or objects such as rocks.

There are many species of plants that can be epiphytic (grow as epiphytes), including ferns, orchids, and bromeliads. Without true root systems, epiphytes must obtain their nutrients primarily from rainwater and the underlying plant or rock stratum upon which they are attached. Tropical rainforests are particularly beneficial for the consistency of the conditions: temperature, humidity, light and rainfall.

The epiphytes in these three photos are growing on the side of some large granite boulders. These are considered lithophytes since they grow on rocks (lithos is Latin for stone). The epiphytes create their own micro-environment by forming a cup-like shape pointing upwards and collecting dead leaves which fall from above. Within this natural compost, water and nutrients will collect that both fall from the sky and forest canopy, or else run down along the rock face.

The second photo clearly shows the tough, brown roots (called adventitious or aerial roots) that extend from node to node. They are, in fact, quite like the stolons on strawberry plants that allow plants to develop when a new node touches soil, plant or rock stratum (called propagative roots). These are held onto the rock face probably by chemical excretions that act like cement.

Some plant species have a type of aerial root that contains an epidermis called velamen radicum. These root systems have abundant dead and empty cells that store water (like a sponge) during times of rainfall. Without such a structure, these plants would quickly dry out upon their rock face home during periods of no rainfall.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wild Tree Grafts

In our front yard we have been growing a Tapak Kuda tree for three years (Bauhinia blakeana). Last year I noticed that one branch looked a bit strange and when I investigated (climbed my ladder), I realised that a branch of another tree species -Jambu Bol (Eugenia malaccensis)- was growing out of a wound in one of the Tapak Kuda branches!

(Right: Tapak Kuda branch -running horizontally- with Jambu Bol graft coming out the upper side.)

I cut the branch down and took it to a wedding kenduri to show to a former colleague of mine, a woman who holds the BSc degree in Biology. She had never seen or heard of such a graft, obviously a wild graft done either by birds or insects. I kept the branch and plan on doing a thin-slice cross-section someday.

(Left: Closeup of Jambu Bol graft coming out of wound in Tapak Kuda branch.)

This past week I was once again surprised when I climbed my ladder to prune the Tapak Kuda tree again. I found another Jambu Bol graft growing out of another branch! So what I thought was a one-off freak of nature might not be so unusual. Still, I have not been able to find any reports online that describe such wild grafts. So, I am asking blog readers for help. Does anyone out there know of other such grafts?

(Right: Tapak Kuda branch running horizontally with Jambu Bol graft growing downwards. Tapak Kuda leaves in upper right of photo; Jambu Bol leaves on the left side.)

Although I cut the first grafted branch down, I am leaving the second one in place to see if it will eventually produce fruit.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

July is THE Fruit Month

Malaysia is blessed with both a wide variety of fruits and a near-constant availability. Still, July is the primary fruit month in that most varieties are available. Since many of my colleagues still live in kampungs, they have access to many fruit trees and, thus, amply supply the college mostly with bags of rambutan, mangosteen (manggis), and bananas.

Last Saturday, I was invited by a colleague to visit her kampung home and assist in picking fruit that was out of reach from the ground. She lives with her two children, and her two parents, and none of them were able to climb the large mangosteen tree from which they obtained the bulk of their mangosteen crop. Since I love visiting kampung homes, I jumped at the opportunity to motorcycle out of town on a bright and hot Saturday morning.

The mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) is a slow-growing tree that takes around 15 years before producing fruit. But when it does begin, watch out! As can be seen from the photo, a dull purple fruit is produced that when ripped open shows sections (like an orange) of white pulpy flesh over small and soft, gray seeds. Mangosteens do not stay ripe very long, and must be picked and eaten within just a few days. To some of us, mangosteen is the best-tasting fruit, beating even a good mango. I suspect that the reason I had never tasted one before was the difficulty in transporting them great distances since they do not appear to last long once picked.

When I arrived at my colleague's house, her mother directed me to the back part of the lot, through the chicken and duck pen, to a very tall mangosteen tree (around 10 meters in height) that had ample and alternating limbs up the trunk. All of the low-hanging fruit had already been picked by the father, who uses a long aluminum pole with a wire hook on the end. I climbed up the tree quite easily and used the pole to pull fruit off the upper branches. My colleague's two children -two of those shown at the Lis Na Ree swimming pool- ran around and picked up the fruit from the ground and placed them into a 5-gallon plastic bucket. Within around 20 minutes, we had filled an entire bucket with mangosteen, and there were no ripe fruit remaining.

Back at the front of the compound were two shorter (3-4 m) mangosteen trees that were quite thick in canopy. There was no need to climb more than 1 m up to where I could reach up into the upper part. These trees yielded only about 1/2 bucket.

Another fruit that I was asked to pick were from two different lime bushes. In Malaysia there are three or four major types of limes: key lime (limau nipis), kaffir lime (limau purut), musk lime (limau kasturi), and the pomelo (limau bali). I was shocked to see that the key lime had thorns (called duri) on its branches and I duly scratched myself in trying to pick all of the limes within reach from the ground. My experience has only been with the musk lime, which does not have thorns.

(Left, above: Key lime: limau nipis)
(Left, below: Kaffir lime: limau purut)

The key lime tastes like a lime should, very tart and sour. Mixed with cold water, it is probably the most-refreshing thing one can drink in the hot and humid tropics. Unlike the key lime, which has smooth skin, the kaffir lime is covered with wart-like bumps. In taste, it is not very sour and, has a fairly dull taste, not very pleasing. In cooking, the kaffir lime leaves are usually used, especially in Thai style.

For lunch, I was served some fried flat bread and offered my very own durian fruit. Durian is quite famous, both for its acquired taste, and for its hard and thorny shell. Most westerners decidedly do NOT like the smell or taste of durian. After several years of agreeing with them, I was pleasantly surprised by a neighbor who gave me a durian freshly picked from his own orchard. Since then, I have determined that the smelly ones are those hybrids, picked and shipped long distances, whereas the kampung-grown durians, non-hydrids, actually do not smell bad and taste quite good.

Durian has 3-4 sections within its hard shell, and these sections are a flesh covering a hard and almond-colored seed. The flesh has the consistency of custard. The problem that I have with durian is that it is a heating fruit, and causes great amounts of gas throughout the remainder of the day. It is truly the fruit that keeps on giving!

Durian (Durio zibethinus) is considered the King of Fruit, and great research and care goes into growing the correct varieties and practicing the right amount of horticultural husbandry. The trees grow up to 40 meters in height and can take several years before they flower and fruit. July is the primary fruit-bearing month and so mounds of the fruit are found displayed EVERYWHERE. The spiny nut is quite large, from softball size to football size. Malays have proverbs about not walking under Durian trees during July because a donk on the head could be serious. Sitting there on Saturday, eating mangosteen, we could hear a nut or two hit the ground with a thud. It is better to let the Durian fall itself, rather than trying to climb up and pick.

The final fruit variety that I sampled this past Saturday was what the Malays call macang. Macang is a variety of mango that has a smell and taste that I can only describe as a cross between a normal mango and a durian. I prefer my mangos to taste like mangos, so I will probably not partake of macang again.

Finally, even though I did not pick any rambutan this past week, I was given a large bag by another colleague whose kampung compound has a large rambutan tree. Rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum) produces either red or golden hairy fruit (rambut is Malay for hair). Inside the fruit (about the size of a golf ball) is a translucent, grapelike flesh covering a seed that looks like an almond. Rambutan is probably the second-most favorite fruit for westerners and one can easily eat a dozen in one sitting.

(Left: Rambutan, the hairy fruit)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Impiana Resort, Cherating Beach, Part 2

The Impiana Resort at Cherating Beach, where I attended a 3-day workshop, was so beautiful that I have decided to post a large photo set. Click on any of the small photos in order to see the full-size image.

The rooms used a nice mix of wood floors (parquet), fabric, bamboo shades and nice wood furniture.

Photo 1: Interior of room with bamboo shades.

Photo 2: Detail of window bench seat

Photo 3: Excellent chicken, fish, goat, beef and vegetable dishes served up.

Photo 4: Lucious desserts, but very small portions, thus I didn't feel bad about eating several per meal!

Photo 5: Nusantara (SE Asian) artwork and collectibles (antique furniture) scattered about the buildings.

Photo 6: Dining room with greenery, artwork, beautiful tile floor and wooden furniture.

Photo 7: High ceiling above lobby area.

Photo 8: Reflection pool with entertainment stage for nighttime performances.

Photo 9: Nighttime entertainment group from local kampung.

Photo 10: Waiting area between lobby and reflection pool. Nighttime stage at the back of photo over the pool.

Photo 11: Reflection pool beside lobby waiting area, overlooking the South China Sea. Water from this pool cascades down into the swimming pool, which provides for a very refreshing waterfall massage.