Sun sea sand

Sun sea sand

Monday, April 21, 2014

Love Note I

Your name plays on my lips. Can you not hear me? I wish my sigh could tickle the membranes of your inner ear despite the miles between us, bringing you the message of how much I miss you. And with the breath carrying your name, I exhale my love into the universe, that you may feel the tenderness that curls around my heart when I think of you.

Or to add a bit more drama:

I sigh your name upon the southern wind that teases the sea into caps of white and pushes the waves to crash upon the shore on which I lay. Can you not hear me as the same wind weaves and dances its way between the mountains of concrete and glass in the city where you are? I wish my sigh could tickle the membranes of your inner ear despite the miles between us, bringing you the message of how much I miss you. And with the breath carrying your name, I exhale my love into the universe, that you may feel the tenderness that curls around my heart when I think of you.

Or in Shakespeare-type verse:

I sigh your name 'pon the southern wind that
teases the sea into caps of white and
pushes the waves to crash upon the shore.
Can you not hear me as the same wind weaves
and dances tween the mountains of concrete
and glass in the fair city where you are?
I wish my sigh could travel the miles that
cruelly sits 'tween you and I, bringing you
the heartworn note of how much I miss you.
And with that breath I 'xhale my love into
the universe that you may feel my heart's
tenderness whenever I think of you.

Written on Tioman Island in May 2013, when I was madly in love.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Pizza Uno is All Grown Up

It used to be Pizza Uno. Now it's just Uno restaurant, and the tagline is "Gourmet Comfort Food". My brother asked, as we were approaching the Taman Tun Dr Ismail outlet: "What does gourmet mean?" My immediate answer: "Expensive."

Yes, it's all grown up into a gourmet cafe, and the prices have expanded as well. Times change, of course, and a rise in prices is expected all around. From the restaurant called Pizza Italia I used to visit in Ampang for such  delicious pasta [the garlic prawn was memorable indeed], the go-to place then became Pizza Uno in Centrepoint, which offered more none-pasta dishes. Now it's Uno, in Taman Tun and USJ, and it has become a chill-out place for those who can afford it.

With soup at RM9, antipasti ranging from RM12-18, pasta RM16-28, pizza RM24-34 and tenderloin or the fish special up to RM48, it's now firmly in the mid-upper-level range. If you're not convinced, you only have to look at the soft drink prices of RM5 per can [of Pepsi, they don't offer Coca Cola].

Still not convinced? A meal with the small portions might sway you. The motto on the glass wall at the nicely done Taman Tun outlet says: Eat a little less. Enjoy a little more. I said to my brother, and I wasn't really kidding, "Eat a little less. PAY a little more."

I chose the RM24 beef lasagna, which the waiter assured me was freshly made. I specifically asked because I once paid RM28 at a boutique cafe for lasagna that came from a RM8 packet available at Tesco. At Uno, my lasagna was probably freshly made, but they made the cardinal sin of microwaving it before serving. At a mom-and-pop shop maybe, but at a gourmet restaurant, this is a huge no-no. As a result, my dish was nuclear-hot, and actually remained tongue-burning the whole 30 minutes it took me to finish it. Nuclear meltdown aside, the taste was just about similar to the instant lasagna at the supermarket, with no "wow" factor. Disappointing but edible.

My brother chose the RM24 fettucine carbonara, and it was tasty but otherwise bland, in the sense that there was merely the taste of the creamy sauce [which was a nice thickness] and beef bacon, nothing spectacular. Presentation wise it was also boring, with the little bit of scattered green [the same as on my lasagna] serving as the go-to decoration. Adequate.

On the plus side, the hot chocolate was delicious! So good in fact that I had two [although the size of the cup may have had something to do with it]. At RM8, it was just a bitter enough, while the foam, cream and chocolate topping gave it the taste of luxury. And it made the drink sweet, so do taste it before putting in more sugar.

Uno serves alcohol as beverages and in the food, so do be aware of what you're ordering. My brother was taken with the Lemon Spritz, and fortunately we were informed by the waiter that it was alcoholic [we didn't read the small print that it included limoncello]. Stated in the menu as under Other Beverages, below the water and soft drinks, it might be more mindful for the restaurant to put a little "with alcohol" sticker instead of relying on the waiters, especially with customers who can't read the fine print.

The waiters can't be expected to remember everything, after all. Our waiter spoke passable English, enough to the extent of taking our orders but perhaps not sufficiently to explain what our dishes were made from. They did, however, listen enough to change the spelling of the word "tenderloin" on their blackboards listing the April specials. It's the little things that count.

I expect there are some great dishes at Uno, but it would be hit-or-miss, really. Overall, I would return for a perfectly acceptable meal, while testing a few more dishes if I'm feeling adventurous. At RM77 for two, though [two main dishes and three drinks], it's a big ask to play russian roulette with my taste buds.

Uno. 55 Jalan USJ10/1A Taipan, Subang Jaya
  12 Persiaran Zaaba, Taman Tun Dr Ismail

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Loving Kellie's Folly

Castles call to me; something about the romanticism of being a princess, with a room in the tallest tower. Disregard, of course, all the cons of life in the olden days - short life span, no dental care, the restrictions of royal life, etcetera etcetera - and the little girl's princess dreams come to life when walking around turrets and up stone spiral stairs and resting cheek upon hand on the window sill looking out at the view [or daydreaming about a prince].

There are not many castles in Malaysia, and certainly not ones open to the public, so one man's folly is truly a fortune for someone like me. This is Kellie's Castle, set in Batu Gajah, in the state of Perak north of Kuala Lumpur.

Also known as Kellie's Folly, it was built by Scotsman William Kellie Smith for his family, but abandoned following his death [read the tragic backstory here]. It's not a real castle, of course, but a wealthy plantation owner's dream of a magnificent mansion for his heir, and as some say, to be the Joneses of the time.

Whatever his reasons, Kellie's Castle stands as beautiful in its bare bones as it would have been if completed. To me maybe even better, as the rough bricks, crumbling mortar and unfinished windows give it the air of a true European castle. An expert architect suggests that finished, the mansion would probably have looked a bit different, and completely painted over, so I do like it this way.

Built in the early 1900s [work started in 1905], it's also just magnificent in its architecture and layout. There is a six-storey tower that would have been serviced by the country's first elevator, while the main part of the mansion features rooms with high ceilings plus accompanying decor details like corniches, secret stairwells and arches. The flat roof gives me the chills standing near the edge, but imagine what a rooftop party would have been like!

In a time when not many buildings in the country would have been made from stone, it's also a wonderful feat of engineering, and of the vision of the man who had to import most of the luxurious materials and even the artisans to create his masterpiece.

I first went to Kellie's Castle as a teenager, and I have returned to the site several times over the years and still enjoy each trip. And I haven't even fully explored the grounds, nor the secret tunnels that have been discovered. On every visit, I find something new to marvel over, though the last time I was there I felt an odd chill that I refused to attribute to stories of sightings of the spirit of William Kellie Smith himself or the labourers who died there. Regardless, Kellie's Castle or Folly continues to hold a fascination for me in terms of history and romance. Maybe it also does for the restless owner who never saw his dream come to fruition.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Eating, Drinking and Being Merry

Grilled Chicken
UPDATE: Outlet Closed

One of my current favourite hangouts since moving to this side of the world is Bucida Court, in the Penchala area. It's actually across the LDP from the higher-end haunts of Ikea and The Curve, and therein also lies the divide, as the "hawker-style" outlets, the open-air plus tin-roofed seating and sometimes-by-the-road parking means prices are lower than the premium sites.

Not true hawker prices, mind you, but reasonable in a mid-range kind of way. From RM3 snacks (fish crackers), RM5 desserts and less-than-RM10 satay to RM13 grilled chicken (my personal favourite), RM20 pizza and RM25 BBQ ribs, it's an acceptable option from a number of cuisines -- Malay, Arab, Thai and Italian, plus those Western steaks, chops and burgers (including those featuring colourful buns, whose reason for being I still can't quite grasp) and seafood.

Hot Dog
The fare is also perfectly acceptable. The food is never going to win awards, but your taste buds won't try to run away screaming, either. From what I've tried, I like the grilled chicken, while the pizza is OK but maybe not truly "authentic Italian". The pasta not so much, steak and ribs are sub-par only because I have had melt-in-your-mouth experiences and the satay's average, and nothing close to those of Kajang fame. Other popular dishes (I polled others) include spicy noodles with crab, meatballs and some Thai fare.

Some portions may seem smaller than what you're used to, but that's also a trade-off for the price. I always find myself full after each meal, but then again it doesn't take much to fill up my smallish tank.

Most nights you'll also find customers wreathed in smoke -- these are the shisha or hookah lovers drawn by the prices (RM10-RM15) and the mix of flavours that might be weird or inspired, depending on your taste. Bubblegum, Champagne, blue mist, Kickapoo, Red Bull, mixed with watermelon, orange or apple, and a pinch of mint -- you're limited only by your imagination, and maybe the counsel of the shisha mixer who will shake his head at suggestions he thinks won't work. But hey, if you're feeling crazy, just go for it!

My lil bro and his friends - Pic from Bucida Court
Weekend nights (Fri-Sun) also offer the enjoyment of a live band, whose performance is pretty good, although they still cater to the Malay-speaking audience with mostly local songs, and some Santana thrown in once in a while. Pretty lively overall, just don't sit too close to the speakers if you want to maintain a conversation with friends.

Bucida Court opens from early evening to the early hours, and is WiFi enabled (most of the time).

Monday, March 31, 2014

This time last year: Tioman

My first trip to this island off the coast of Johor was in 1996, and I returned for scuba diving after I got my licence in 2000. It's been 10 years, and I still regularly drop in for some rest and relaxation, and recreation. Swimming, diving, snorkelling, stuffing my face, sitting on the sand, and more recently, looking up at the stars in the nighttime. 

This time last year, I was living on the island, sorta. Not exactly in a house, but in one of the touristy chalets; eating at those local restaurants that offer cheap fare. It was eight months of trying to find myself, and starting to become the author that I have always wanted to be. It's still a journey, though, but I have not given up my dream. 

And it was a privilege to live my dream in the paradise that is Tioman Island.