Sunday, May 22, 2011

Natural Batik Village, Balok

Some friends visited us this week, so we took them out to the Natural Batik Village, where batik materials are produced, by hand, and local art crafts are produced and sold.  It is located in Kampung Balok, about a 15-minute drive north of Kuantan along the beach road.

Batik is the Malay word for the wax-resist dying technique for coloring cloths and producing cloth paintings.

An earlier post highlighted the Adina Batik shop in Kuantan, and the Natural Batik Village is one of the other two batik factories which is known to us.  To call it a factory, however, does not do the craft work justice.

At Natural Batik Village, teams of artists turn cotton and silk cloth into works of art, either for dress, wall hangings, paintings, or to be used in producing cenderamata (Malay for handicrafts) such as purses, bandannas, bed coverings and so forth.

Some designs are drawn free-hand, using copper canting (also known as tjanting) which enables a fix line of hot wax to be laid down.  The cloth is then dyed with only the waxed portion retaining the color covered by the wax.

Free Hand Design Using Canting

Artist Applying Dye
For a regular, consistent pattern of wax to be applied, copper blocks are dipped in hot wax and used to lay out the design.

Copper Block Used for a Consistent Pattern

Large Selection of Copper Blocks
Material for Clothing Undergoing Dye Process
The Natural Batik Village also provides classes for tourists and other who wish to learn the art of batik.  In addition to the production of batik cloth, there is a shop attached to the "factory" which sells a variety of batik material and Malaysian-produced crafts.

Batik Village Shop
Brilliant Colors...

Beach Wear...

Sensible Clothing...

And Souvenirs (Cenderamata)
Beside the main building housing the "factory" and shop are smaller shops selling an interesting array of items.  I was intrigued by some of the wooden carvings, which included a giant spider and shore birds.

Giant Carved Wooden Spider

Carved Wooden Shore Birds
The shops also had a collection of "Huh?" items for sale: things that one would not affiliate with a tourist souvenir and clothing shop.  My favorite was a brass cat door knocker that was probably produced to look ancient (and thus, more expensive).  There was also a large painting of a nude (European?) woman that was completely out-of-place.  Batik painting of village scene, batik painting of orchids, batik painting of scene from the Ramayana, LARGE EUROPEAN NUDE, Batik painting of a man fishing, .... The owner assured us that there had been TWO of such paintings and one was sold, so apparently there is (was) a market for that oddity.

Brass Cat Door Knocker
So, if you are touring through the Kuantan area, be sure to check out the Natural Batik Village.  It is only a few meters from the turn-off to the De Rhu resort road in the village of Balok.  Teak and his gang highly recommend it, just be aware that a European nude painting may surprise you!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Night of Incredible Energy

Once a year, the various departments in our college are urged to have special events for our students.  This semester, our civil engineering group planned a 'Makan Malam' (evening meal) at a local hotel and made it into a masquerade party.  I mistook the instructions, thinking that it was a COSTUME party, when in fact, people were to dress up in dinner wear and then wear a mask.  Instead, I dressed as a pirate and was the most under-dressed person in the entire hall!  (For once, the students dressed better than I did.)

Girls in Masquerade

Lecturer (R) and Spouse, in Masquerade

There were the usual musical performances, some serious, some silly, with the added benefit of a Rickenbacker guitar, certainly one of the few in Malaysia.

How can a student afford a Rickenbacker?

Even us lecturers got into the act, either supporting student groups with our guitar-playing, or else attempting to sing songs ourselves.

Hard to remember those lyrics

Girl singers, my Queen choice on far right
Prizes were given out and a King and Queen of the Night were chosen.  Each of the five lecturers were to go around and pick their King and Queen candidates.  For my Queen candidate, I chose a lady whose attitude made a dramatic change over the four semesters (two years) in which I taught her.  I could tell she was smart in the first semester, but her lack of effort meant that she earned only C marks.  She began to hang around with a better crowd of girls and her marks began to improve.  Finally, this semester, with only two subjects left to study, she took four former subjects over in order to get higher marks.  As a teacher, it is a pleasure to work with such young adults and see them overcome some of life's speedbumps.

King of the Night (R) as Phantom of the Opera
Queen of the night (R) as an Arab

The evening was thoroughly enjoyable and even though the time went well past bedtime for the DW and I, we were able to cope with the increasingly manic energy expressed by the students and lecturers, all much younger than us.  Interacting with students outside the classroom is very important for developing an ability to work with them.

BTW, the answer to the rhetorical question posed above is: He can't.  He borrows it from his wonderful lecturer.

Szechuan Beef for Healthy Eating

I tried out another recipe from the HPBooks series, this one being for Szechuan Beef from The Book of Light Chinese Dishes by Kathryn Hawkins.

It looks a copy can be purchased for the exorbitant price of $0.98 from Amazon.  I picked up my copy from a used-book shop for a similar price, maybe all of $2.

Anyway, this recipe was quick to make and had few ingredients AND I was able to use my new $8 wok that I mentioned in a prior post.

Although the recipe was for 4 servings, I cut some in half since just the DW and I were eating.  I will note what was halved, and what was full amount so you can make your own decisions.

1/2 pound beef fillet (halved)
1 TBS olive oil (for stir fry, who measures this out anyway?)
1 garlic clove (full)
1 cm piece freshly ground ginger root (full, we freeze chunks of ginger root for later use; still retains its pungency)
2 green onions, chopped (halved)
1 TBS hoisin sauce (full)
1 TSP Szechuan peppercorns (full; I can never find this so I used black peppercorns)
4 oz. vegetable chow-chow (??, so I used some freshly-cut green beans)
1 TSP sugar (full)

1.  Trim the fat and silver skin from the beef.  Cut into thin slices.

2.  Prepare the peppercorns by dry-roasting in your brand-new $8 wok for 1 minute and then grinding into powder.  This releases the fragrance unlike any other method.

3.  Heat oil in your wok and stir-fry beef, garlic, ginger and green onions for 1 minute.

4.  Add remaining ingredients and stir-fry 3 to 4 minutes until the beef is just cooked through.

5.  Serve with rice.  I use brown rice, loving the slightly browned (caramelized) bits from the bottom of the rice cooker.

Szechuan Beef Ingredients (green beans are in-season)

Yup, Hoisin Sauce

The hoisin sauce is the most interesting thing about this recipe.  It is basically a Chinese barbecue sauce and can be used in many recipes as an added flavour.  The sauce contains soybean paste, garlic, chillies, and other spices, and usually contains some sugar and vinegar.

Browning the beef, throwing in the seasonal veggies

A lump of Hoisin sauce (~1 TBS)

Ready to Eat (notice the small helping)

Recipes like this are so easy to prepare that I don't know why more people don't cook at home.

Beauty is All Around

Just a few photos of the beautiful things in life here in Kuantan.
Teluk Chempedak Beach and Pelindung Point

Bug in Frangipani

May Storm Clouds

Shoes of the Semester

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Staff Club Family Day : Sempurna Resort

Semporna Resort is where my school's staff club held our 2011 Family Day a few weekends back.

The Resort itself is not in an interesting location, sitting basically in the midst of a growing housing area, but it is strategically located close to the Kuantan airport, Gambang waterpark, and Pekan, from where the current Prime Minister hails, thus, targeted for growth and development.  Room prices are reasonable (see here), and the resort -though small- has a nice pool area for adults and children.

Pools (Adults Background, Children Foreground)

And pool.
My school has a club for its staff members (none of the top administrators showed).  We are all deducted a few ringgit monthly to the activities planned by a president and secretariat that are elected every other year.  The Family Day this year included the election of new officers.  I enjoy listening to the banter as different staff members submit each others' names for nomination.  You quickly find out who is and isn't popular!

New Club President
Staff members are provided with a new jersey (lime green this year) and the opportunity to participate in silly and semi-serious games.  I was drafted into the Old Guy's team to play water polo, and we won the 4-team tournament quick easily.

Pick Up Marbles with Chopsticks
One of the sillier games was Men-Putting-Makeup-On-Men, a game I had not seen before.  It is apparently quite popular and I was reminded of the ease with which pondan (male transvestites) can exist in this non-confrontational society.

Men Wearing Makeup

At the end, winners of the various competitions are announced and everyone receives a prize or two and goes home happy.

Lining Up the Prizes

Announcing the Winners

Waiting to Go Home