Saturday, 31 December 2016

Treasuring and Toasting to a Thirty Two-Year-Old Friendship

          Separated by 10,452 km and busy with the demands of our everyday activities, my best friend and I rarely get to enjoy our heart-to-heart chats. The last time we met up was two and a half years ago. But whenever we come together again, “it’s always amazing how we seem to pick up from where we last met like it was yesterday” (her exact words).
Siew Ee and I are actually pretty different in many aspects. She is devoted to the furry felines while I absolutely abhor them. She’s a very talented artist whereas even a seven-year-old can draw a better picture than I can. She’s stylish, fashionable and has both the looks and stature of a model. I, on the other hand, dress more conservatively and am never up-to-date where fashion is concerned. She swooned over Andre Agassi back in the 1990s but I drooled over lesser known local badminton stars like Kwan Yoke Meng and Soo Beng Kiang. She enjoys green tea latte and matcha cakes, both of which I shun. Despite our differences, we complement each other well and can talk for hours without ever running out of topics. My parents used to marvel at how long our phone conversations could be, even after six hours together at school. 
     For our tertiary studies, we were both in the United Kingdom, albeit in different cities and sponsored by different scholarships. We met up and she introduced me to a dashing friend of hers (now husband), Satvinder. Upon graduation, they stayed on in the UK whereas I had to fulfil my teaching contract back in Malaysia.
Sat, Siew Ee and I at Victoria Station, London 
     Through the years, we have always kept in contact, even before the era of Facebook. Technology has, of course, made things much easier. I can still remember how I excitedly struggled with my first e-mail in 1996, which was to Siew Ee. Every time she returned to Malaysia for a visit, we would make it a point to meet up, regardless of how short a time we had. There was once she was back for her beloved grandmother’s wake, and even at such a difficult time, we managed to sneak out for tea.
     I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and falling in love, first, with Arianna, and later, with Arisha as well.
Meeting 6-month-old Arianna in June 2010

Meeting 6-month-old Arisha in December 2012
Siew Ee’s two angels are very different in character but they love each other to bits, and that kind of reminds me of the bond I share with their mama. We love and accept each other, warts and all.
     Two days before 2016 ended, Siew Ee and I were reunited for an afternoon. She was at my hairdresser’s for a perm. Oblivious to everyone there, we were chatting, giggling and poking fun at each other. Later, we went back to her house, where Arianna was waiting. Arisha, unfortunately, was having a nap. We went to the nearby Petit Mary Patisserie for tea and they were both pleased with the cakes. I had such a fabulous time getting to know Arianna better and regaling her with stories of her mama.
Adorable Arianna poses with our food

Cheeky little angel obliged me when I told her to lick all the cream

Auntie Ai Ling and her little darling

     When it was time for me to drag myself away from them, Arianna was clinging to me, trying to elicit a promise from me to visit her in the UK next. I will find myself missing, not only her mama, but cheeky Arianna as well. How I wish I could have spent time with sweet Arisha too!

     A bond that has been cultivated for thirty two years, and is still going strong, is not something trivial. So here’s a toast to our wonderful friendship, which I treasure dearly, and may we have many more years to come. Cheers, Siew Ee, and Happy New Year!
My best friend and I in 2014

My best friend and I in 2016

Friday, 30 December 2016

Meeting Up With A Fellow Blogger

     This last week of the school holidays has been full of meetings and activities in preparation for the new academic year. However, I was fortunate to have Thursday free and I grabbed the opportunity to schedule two very important meet-ups. Despite the first meet-up being much shorter than the second, it was momentous nevertheless. I shall blog about the second meet-up on another date as it deserves an entire post on its own.

     Blogging has helped to forge some friendships; one of it with an Ipoh lady and ex-Convent girl as well. We had been talking about meeting up one of these days. But we had both been busy with our own agenda.

     When there’s a will, there’s a way. We both agreed that we really had to set a date. So on 29 December 2016, we finally met up for lunch at O’Days in Canning Garden. It is a fairly new cafe which specialises in homemade Nyonya delights and tong sui.

     Although it was our first meeting, it somehow felt as if I was meeting an old friend. Perhaps it is because I already know so much about her through her blogs. She is exactly how I imagined her to be…pleasant, down-to-earth, bubbly and sweet. Meet Claire, the effervescent writer of the blog “Caring Is Not Only Sharing”!

     For once, we were both more interested in chatting and exchanging stories, rather than the food. So we merely ordered drinks and some kuih to share.

     Before we parted ways, we promised that today would not be our last meeting. We met as acquaintances but left as friends. And Claire, thank you very much for the present.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Attending An English Wedding

An English Wedding in Cameron Highlands
"Confetti here
Champagne there
Love everywhere!!!"

"This way to the 'I Do's'
And The Kisses!!!"

      These were two of the quirky wooden signposts that led the way to the English wedding that was held at the All Souls' Church, Cameron Highlands, on 3 December 2016. Derrick and I had the greatest honour and pleasure to be a part of this very special day, a culmination of a six-year-long romance, a celebration of the wondrous love of two incredibly lovely people.
A collage of their wondrous moments together

Follow the way!
     Their relationship has transcended distance, cultures and obstacles. Having met through a mutual friend, the romance of this handsome English gentleman and gorgeous girl from Gopeng blossomed online. Listening to their stories and seeing the sacrifices they have made to meet each other halfway, we praise God for this beautiful couple and pray that their love for each other will continue to grow deeper and stronger.
     The All Souls' Church, tucked away up on a hill in Tanah Rata, was the perfect venue for the wedding. It was quaint and serene. An early morning shower rendered the cool Cameron Highlands air even crispier, thus bringing us all a little closer to the temperatures of England. Wedding guests started streaming in at about half past nine. As dictated by the dress code, the ladies wore hats with their pretty dresses, while the men were handsomely attired in shirts and ties. At ten minutes past ten, the radiant bride walked down the aisle with her elder brother. Mercifully, the pastor kept his sermon short and sweet. It was a simple ceremony but it went beautifully.
We were one of the earliest to arrive and took the opportunity for a we-fie.

The bridal procession begins!

Lillian and her doting brother

Lillian, the picture of happiness and elegance

Exchanging vows

Presenting to you Mr. and Mrs. Fabian Beresford Wylie

A photo with our dear friends

     After the church wedding, everyone adjourned to the nearby Ye Olde Smokehouse Hotel, an English Tudor boutique-style hotel, for the cocktail reception. It was planned to be held in the garden, which would have been really lovely. But the rain decided to shower its blessings on the newly-weds so the cocktail reception had to be held indoors, at the bar. Nevertheless, the venue was an excellent choice, as it was the epitome of all things English. Incidentally, this sweet couple also run their hugely-popular bed and breakfast in Brinchang, Cameron Highlands (check out Everything English Homestay on Airbnb).
Garden-themed English wedding at the English Tudor style Ye Olde Smokehouse Hotel

Checking in at the cocktail reception

Lillian and I

     So to darling Lillian and Fabian, heartiest Congratulations once again! May God's grace be with both of you as you embark on this exciting journey as husband and wife.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Hunting For Churros And Meeting Elvis In Ipoh

     Reading a KL blogger’s post on churros reminded me of this delicious crunchy sweet dessert and spurred a search for churros in Ipoh. And that was how I stumbled upon Hello Elvis, an ice cream parlour that opened in February this year.
This 30-year-old building was chosen to be the premises of Hello Elvis
     Located a few shops away from Yin Woh Tong, the popular local pharmacy, along Jalan Sultan Iskandar (or Hugh Low Street, as it is known to the locals), Hello Elvis is owned by two sisters who were born in Ipoh but grew up in KL. The name Elvis was chosen in memory of their father, who was a great fan of the legendary Elvis Presley.
Nicely done over, this ice cream parlour has a cozy homely ambience.

Simple decor but pleasing to the eye

Love this little corner which reminds me of a kedai runcit

     Hello Elvis sells soft serve ice cream with lots of creative and tasty toppings like Kinder Bueno, marshmallows dipped in chocolate, wheat cereals, cheese crackers, cheese sticks, butterscotch chips, honeycomb, popcorn, crushed Oreo, pretzels, croissant and of course, the churros that I was hunting for. Prices are reasonable, hovering between RM8 and RM10.50.
     Churros, for the uninitiated, are a fried dough pastry made predominantly from choux pastry (my favourite!). Originating from Spain, churros are also popular in other countries like Portugal, France and the Philippines. Churros are usually shaped long and thin, and they can be called the Western version of yau chau gwai. Ideally eaten dipped in sinful chocolate sauce, I prefer mine freshly-fried and coated with cinnamon sugar, just the way I enjoy my doughnuts too.
     Having my churros as a mere topping on soft serve ice cream was something new to me. I certainly enjoyed my desert and would not mind returning for another fix. However, my parents found the combination a tad too sweet and would probably be happier with just the ice cream.
Curious Churros --- that's the name of my ice cream, priced at RM9.50 with a waiting time of 5-10 minutes

     But I learn that churros can also be found at Burps & Giggles. Perhaps I’ll order some after indulging in crepes at Buku Tiga Lima next door. Hmmm…a makan trip at Old Town is in order this coming school holidays.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Gulping Down Desserts At The Roadside

     The mention of “tong sui” (sweet soup, usually taken for dessert) never stirs any excitement in me unless it is referring to the “fah sang wu” (peanut soup). However, in Ipoh, most “tong sui” establishments either stick to peddling the more famous red bean soup and the likes or serve a watery rendition of the peanut soup. Thus, I could only get my fill of the peanut soup at restaurant dinners, after praying fervently that the “fah sang wu” would be included in the dessert course. I remember insisting on that as the dessert for my own wedding reception, but being the busy bride that I was on that day, I failed to even enjoy a sip.
     Therefore, when I learned of the existence of a “fah sang wu” stall in Pasir Pinji, I excitedly made my way there.  This stall has been in operation for more than 30 years, having been started by the current lady boss’ father. It is actually more famous for its “mah chee” (sticky balls of glutinous rice flour coated with peanut and sugar). In fact, the name of the stall reads Hong Kee Mah Chee. Reading the Chinese characters, I discovered that it’s actually called “Fong” and not “Hong”.
Park your car by the roadside and grab a seat inside this wooden stall.
       Those tempting balls were also another carrot for this rabbit as they have been another firm favourite where desserts are concerned. I remember roaming the streets of Georgetown, hunting for their famous street art and enjoying a tub of hot “mah chee” at the same time. You can read that post here : 
     Together with my equally adventurous partner-in-crime (my mother), we went in search of this stall on a hot Sunday afternoon (business starts after 1 p.m.). We had earlier enjoyed a Japanese lunch at Mokuren but were disappointed to find that they did not have our favourite black sesame ice cream that day. So we decided to look elsewhere for desserts. We managed to locate Hong Kee without difficulty as I had been provided with clear directions from my helpful colleagues. If you are travelling from the direction of the town centre, drive past the Pasir Pinji market and look out for the light blue wooden stall on the left. Both the “fah sang wu” and “mah chee” are sold at RM3.00 per portion, which is quite a hefty price for Ipoh standards. But I suppose we are also paying for the name “Hong Kee”, which has shot to stardom after it was featured in “Ho Chiak”, a local food programme. Since then, it has been drawing steady crowds of tourists.
This picture of Hong Kee's "mah chee" is taken from another blogger's collection.

Looking at this photo of Hong Kee's "fah sang wu" taken from another blogger's collection, I'm salivating again.

Lady boss and her son at their stall situated along Jalan Queen, Pasir Pinji
     Tucking into the warm bowl of sweet and fragrant soup and occasionally pausing to pop in those delightful chewy balls, I was in seventh heaven. I was so caught up in eating and slurping that I even forgot to take pictures of the “fah sang wu” and “mah chee”. So were they really that good and worth the price? I would say that the peanut soup is indeed one of the better ones that I have tasted as it’s not sickly sweet and it had the right consistency. As for the “mah chee”, I would order that again if I am at the stall. But I wouldn’t drive all the way there just for that. There is a stall that sells equally good “mah chee” at the Aneka Selera Food Paradise, Ipoh Garden.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Living The Irish Dream - Part 10

       County Donegal in the northwestern corner is considered to be the wild child of Ireland. It is at times battered by brutal weather but boasts of wild, rugged and unspoilt splendour. Due to its remote location, it is not plundered by tourists. But we included it in our Irish itinerary as we wanted to break the long journey from County Galway to County Antrim, and also because Mr. Photographer had his eyes on three spots in County Donegal.
        A shipwreck at Magherclogher Beach, Gweedore, attracted Derrick strongly to County Donegal. The ship, now called Bad Eddie, ran ashore here in the 1970s after it encountered stormy weather. It is sad to see this once magnificent vessel now stranded in solitary silence on the shore.
Bad Eddie dreams of better days in action
        Fanad Head, a peninsula at the tip of Ireland, was also calling out to Derrick. With the captivating Fanad Head Lighthouse, it made a great photo shot. Constructed in the early 19th century, Fanad Head Lighthouse has been voted as one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world.
A truly captivating sight!
        And the real hidden gem of County Donegal is the Great Pollet Sea Arch! It is an excellent example of marine erosion. However, it is not easy to locate and we made several wrong turns before we found the right spot to park. And then it was a long steep descent to the beach. But it sure was worth it when the spectacular natural sea arch came into sight.
Behold the Great Pollet Sea Arch!
Sea arches are a spectacular phenomena created by Mother Nature with some help from the ocean.

       During dinner at one of the pubs, we decided to give the Irish coffee a try. The name may sound innocent but this concoction of coffee plus whiskey, I assure you, wields great power. It unleashed its potency after a few sips and rendered me incoherent and misbehaving in the car! I also finally understood why drunks can fall asleep in the toilet because that was what I nearly did! 
The deceptively innocent-looking glass of Irish coffee that led me to experience the true state of intoxication!

       I initially did not understand the interest in County Donegal and was quite reluctant to include it in our itinerary. But I am now mighty glad that I let Mr. Photographer have his way, or else I would have missed out on such splendid sights of Ireland. There’s definitely so much more to explore in Ireland and we could not cover everything in our 11-day visit. So a return to the Emerald Isle is in the cards.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Living The Irish Dream - Part 9

             Humming the catchy World War I song “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary”, we drove 170 km from County Wicklow to County Tipperary. We were not headed for the town of Tipperary, but for the town of Cashel. The imposing Rock of Cashel, or more formally known as St. Patrick’s Rock, is the main reason for our visit.

Rock of Cashel at dusk

Truly captivated by the awe-inspiring Rock of Cashel
       The Rock of Cashel dates back to the 9th or 10th century and part of the original church still stands today. Rising from a beautiful meadow, perched on a prominent green hill and surrounded with ancient fortifications, the remains of the church is like a beacon that draws visitors.
        Besides the Rock of Cashel, the nearby Hore Abbey is also worth a visit.
Weaving my way around the ruins of Hore Abbey
Hore Abbey, all for our exploration

Hore Abbey is a Cistercian monastery in ruins but is picturesque nonetheless. It is also surrounded by green pastures, making it a delightful capture for the camera lens, especially when some Irish cows decide to grace your picture with their presence.
"Come, brothers, follow me!"

Now who's watching who?
        Driving back to our B&B in Dualla, a 10-minute drive from Cashel, we caught sight of little flashes of lightning. No, it was not a brewing storm, but we had stumbled upon a community park where kids were being trained for the national game of Ireland — hurling. Resembling hockey but played with a shorter stick and broader oval blade, the Irish of all ages and both sexes take the game very seriously. It has been dubbed as the fastest game on grass and it was such joy watching these little flashes of lightning, who may well turn out to be hurling giants one day.
A hurling game at play
Keen kids
        We also dropped by at Cahir, another town in County Tipperary. This small heritage town is best known for its castle and the Swiss Cottage. From the car park beside Cahir Castle, we took a leisurely 2km walk through the woods to reach the entrance of Swiss Cottage. 
A lovely morning walk through the woods

Our walk rewarded us with sights like this.

        As we left County Tipperary for another part of Ireland, we also drove through The Vee, a gap in the Knockmealdown mountains which rewarded us with panoramic views of the Irish landscape. This was not in our planned itinerary but had come strongly recommended by the host of our B&B. Indeed, like the rest of Ireland, it was another jewel waiting to be discovered and savoured.
Savouring the landscape at The Vee