Friday, September 21, 2012

All things Chinese

So the other day we were at a Chinese restaurant and Solomon pointed to my glass and asked, "What is this?"

I told him, "It's Chinese tea."

So he picked up some peanuts he was eating and asked, "This is Chinese nuts??"

Hahaha! How hilarious a 4 year-old's logic can be!!! :)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bali pt.3 - dan lain-lain

Gosh, I've procrastinated and delayed blogging so long that I have forgotten most of what happened!

Well anyway the beginning part of the trip was mostly diving, diving and more diving. After those first few days, we had time to explore Bali a bit. We stayed at Sanur, and on the last night changed to another hotel in Kuta. The other places we covered was Tulamben when diving, and we also spent a whole day wondering  about Ubud, which was my favourite. I find the artsy fartsy Ubud much more pleasant than Kuta.

Though Kuta is also cool in it's own way; the whole place is like a big party! With more and more people from around the world flying in everyday to join in the fun! Hubby was just amazed at the number of planes you could see flying in every evening. They were like 5 mins apart and coming in non-stop!

The first few nights, we spent at Puri Mesari, a hotel in Sanur. It is a secluded hotel, tucked away in a quiet enclave and is a quaint place with the mandatory Balinese touches like frangipani trees, plenty of water features and outdoor bathrooms! I can see why many people are smitten with Balinese architecture and interior decor.

So on our first no-dive day, we went looking for vanilla pods which SIL and I wanted for our baking adventures! :) Thus we headed in the direction if Ubud.

Along the way, we passed an amazingly breathtaking sight! It was the Tagalalang rice terraces. Like everyone else, we just had to stop and take some photos.

 After quite a bit more driving, we reached Alam Bali Agriculture, the so called coffee and vanilla farm.

Here we tasted kopi luwak (civet coffee), the most expensive coffee in the world. Civet coffee is made from coffee beans eaten and passed out (yes, shit) by the civet cat!!! So we tried the kopi luwak for Rp50,000 a cup (around RM17) and it tasted pretty normal to me, though I am not a coffee drinker so...

 Anyway, as I said, SIL and I were there mainly to hunt for vanilla, but in the end we realized this place was a scam. It was just a small, sad garden with a few assorted plants like coffee, vanilla and cinnamon. There was no large scale farm at all.

When you asked the staff where the farm was, they would point vaguely down a valley which looked like secondary jungle to me. Then when I asked how they processed the vanilla extract (cause it was labelled vanilla oil and I have never heard of vanilla oil), they said that only the boss knew, as they sent the raw materials to Denpasar to be processed. When Hubby asked where the factory at Denpasar was ( I wanted to find wholesale vanilla), he replied he didn't know and quickly excused himself, saying he was busy.

So we bought some vanilla and other things like ginger tea at the shop. I bought the vanilla oil (as I suspected, it was actually not oil at all, but an alcohol based extract) at Rp90,000 per bottle. It was labelled with their sticker, but later on I noticed that the bottle's plastic seal at the cap was printed with a different company's name and address (Surabaya).

Sure enough, when we went to the Ubud market, we found the exact same bottle of vanilla extract (same brand as was printed on the seal) for a fraction of the price! Only Rp10,000 for a bottle! Boy had we been ripped off! I was really pissed off, but Hubby says one just has to be prepared to get fleeced every time you go for a holiday! It happens, more often that not! *Sigh* 

 I suppose it's not such a big deal, but the thought of them duping innocent tourists all year long and getting away with it really bugged me, so I complained on Tripadvisor. It was the least I could do, maybe I can 'save' one or two innocent tourists from wasting their time...

So anyway, after the 'farm', the next stop was lunch! Babi Guling at Ibu Oka, which I raved about in a previous post! Allow me to rave a bit more here:

A whole pig, hand roasted for 4 hours, over real firewood! What's not to love???

 Okay, okay, moving on... Next, we went for a heavenly massage at Sang Spa, then, it was time for shopping! The next stop was the Ubud market, where tourists flock to find a good bargain. It is full of souvenirs, handicraft, clothes, jewellery, etc.. It was fun haggling with the merchants, though at times hazardous! SIL suspects she was cursed by a young lady when she did not buy an item! The young lady was very rude and scolding in her native tongue, so we didn't know exactly what she was saying, but it was obviously nothing nice! There were some nicer and friendlier merchants, but on the whole they were very pushy.

The ladies ready for a 2 hour shopping spree (the men waited patiently at a cafe across the road).

So after dinner at Bumbu Bali, we went back to Sanur and the next day, transferred to our hotel in Kuta, the Sun Island.

It was a gorgeous hotel with a great location. So we had a day to explore Kuta, before flying home early next morning.

Hubby and I went about on a rented motorbike and SIL and friend hung out at Discovery Mall which among other things, housed a spa and most importantly for them, Starbucks!

Traffic in Kuta is pretty scary, and there is honking everywhere! I was so scared of banging my knee on a car or something, as we weaved through traffic.

Anyway, Hubby stopped when he smelled coffee and we discovered another coffee joint which was more authentic looking, Kopi Domba. Since the last coffee farm place was so dodgy, we suspected that the kopi luwak we had there was most probably not even kopi luwak! So once again we tried it, just to see if there was something to this hype that we just didn't get.

Well, it still tasted like normal good(ish) coffee to me and Hubby. Actually I'm probably the last person who you should ask, as my idea of coffee is the ice blended at Coffee Bean! It was even more expensive here, around RM100+ for a cup.

Well, at least we learned that kopi luwak is not farmed (as claimed by the dodgy farm place). It is apparently illegal to rear civets for this purpose, so Kopi Domba claims to pick the civet droppings from the wild! Thus our very expensive conclusion is this; kopi luwak is over rated.

The most fruitful outcome of our explorations of Kuta was the out-of-this-world satay babi we found at a roadside!! This again I raved about two posts ago...

Since we were in Bali, we of course had to set foot on the infamous Kuta beach!

Then it was dinner at Discovery Mall, by the beach to wait for the sunset. The sun was unfortunately behind the clouds, but it was okay. We did glimpse the gorgeous, huge, red sun just seconds before it set (it was setting so fast!) on Kuta beach on the second night of our stay when we ventured there from our hotel in Sanur.

So that was it, an amazing holiday! I do love Bali and the carefree hippie, beach bum vibe that rubs off on you when you're there. I wouldn't mind returning at all! :)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bali pt.2 - scuba diving!

So the main reason for the trip (aside from escaping life for a while) was of course to go scuba diving. The best chance one can have to see the adorable mola mola or sunfish anywhere in the world, is in Bali during the month of August! So this was our main target! Aside from seeing the rare and elusive mola mola, diving in Bali is just so so. (compared to Sipadan and Manado)

mola mola a.k.a. sunfish (Hubby took this pic)

The mola mola are usually at deeper depths and so they are hard to find. However, in the month of August, cold waters from Australia will encourage the mola to come up closer to the surface for cleaning. They have cleaning stations where smaller fishes will eat the parasites off their bodies. This is the best time to see them, when they come up and keep still for cleaning. So we were forewarned and prepared extra vests and hoods to protect ourselves from the cold temperatures which were expected to go down to around 19*C sometimes!

On the first day, we went to Sanur beach to take a boat out to Nusa Penida. The first dive was to be done at Manta Point at Nusa Penida. I forgot to take my sea sickness pills and thought I would just try going without them first! (SIL had some with her but I hadn't been on a boat for 2 years and had forgotten how bad I could get!)

So, by the time we reached Manta Point, I was pretty sick and forced myself to suit up and jump in anyway! Underwater, I tried not to turn my head around too much and was very close to removing my mouthpiece to puke! (yes, underwater!)

But it was worth the pain, as we saw two huge mantas swimming by almost immediately! The water was clear, but not as clear as the water was when we were at Manado or Sipadan, and the mantas were a distance away, so the effect wasn't as I had expected. I dunno, maybe I was expecting a magical moment swimming with gentle giants perhaps? But this was more like watching them on tv! Lol!

It was still a cool moment, as this was the first time I have seen real life, huge, wild mantas up close. However, I was still not feeling well, and the moment we surfaced, I promptly removed my regulator and puked into the water!

So the second dive was out for me. I decided to take a couple of pills and sleep on the boat. Oh did I mention it was cold as well??!! So I was cold, tired and sea sick and just had to take a nap.

The boat moved on to Crystal Bay, where we hoped to catch a glimpse of the mola mola. We had scheduled 3 days of diving here, in case the mola eluded us! So Hubby, SIL and Tzarina went down for the second dive, leaving miserable me on the boat, trying to keep my pills down.

That's Hubby going after the mola! FYI you're not supposed to do that!

And guess what? They saw the mola almost straight away! Two of them!! It was amazing! I was so excited for them! But when they came up, everyone was shivering and complaining of the cold! The temperature had gone down to a freezing 17*C!! Everything had gone right; the temperature was cold enough for the mola, and there wasn't any current to deter the divers!

I felt better after my rest, and the mola sightings had me energized, so I suited up for the third dive. Tzarina decided to sit this one out, as it was too cold for her taste!

This time however, we did not see the molas. The temperature was down to 19*C where we were, and I was gritting my teeth and clamping down on my regulator mouthpiece!! I was shivering and hugging myself while diving!! The dive master went deeper to look for the mola, but the current had started to get strong and we decided to surface.

So I was the only one who did not see the mola, but I did not mind at all! I didn't think it was worth braving the cold to try again!! Everyone agreed and so we decided to change our diving schedule and move to a different location the next day! Enough swimming in refrigerator water for us thankyouverymuch!

The next day, we went to Tulamben, a good site with a shipwreck, USS Liberty, just 10m out from the shore. The only downside is it is a 3hr drive one way, and we have to do shore dive, meaning walk out from the beach, not jump in from the boat.

We have never done shore dives before, so this was something new for us. The beach is a rocky beach, consisting of black volcanic rocks, so going over the rocks with all our heavy equipment while being battered by the strong waves was really difficult and super tiring! We were losing our balance and falling all over the rocks!

But the dive site was excellent, with a huge shipwreck teeming with reef life, and to the right of it a black volcanic sand field good for muck dives, and then even further left, a reef wall good for wall dives!

We did two dives at the shipwreck, where we met a turtle and found pygmy seahorses and saw creepy garden eels which came out really far from their holes in the ground!

The last dive of the day we did a muck dive and found many macro creepy crawlies to photograph! 

The next day we did Tulamben again, one muck dive near the shipwreck, a wall dive at the reef and another muck dive at Tasik Point further down the road.

nasi campur lunch break: warming up in the sun after a cold dive

Diving Tasik Point was easier, as it was volcanic sand and not volcanic rocks, so we didn't bounce about in the waves when going in and out!! I guess we were also getting the hang of shore diving. Anyways, muck dives are always very relaxing and slow paced as you dig around for tiny, tiny things to see!

Hubby shooting away

nudibranch: a favourite of underwater photographers as they come in a myriad of colours and pretty much keep still while you shoot!!

Nudibranch eggs! Amazing right??

Can't wait to start planning for next year's dive trip!! ;) Maldives? Komodo Island? Philippines???

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bali pt.1 - food, glorious food!

So last month, during the Hari Raya break, Hubby and I, along with SIL and her friend/colleague, Tzarina, went to Bali for a scuba diving holiday. August is super peak season for Bali diving, beacause that is the best time to spot the awesome mola-mola, a.k.a. sunfish!

The kids were all at HQ and also enjoyed themselves with cousin Hughie. They even went for a sleepover at Taiku's house, which they always love!

Bali was fabulous, and I'll report on the most important thing first, i.e: FOOD! :)

 So this is Rossi Vivo, one of the first restaurants we went to after the first day of diving. It is an upscale restaurant on Jalan Kuta, right in front of the main Kuta beach. It is a gorgeous, classy place, with a swimming pool of it's own.

They serve fancy and delicious food with prices to match.

L-R: angel hair pasta with asparagus, smoked salmon and caviar, in vodka sauce/ a puffed up pizza calzone/ squid ink risotto.

Here is Warung Mama Putu, a roadside stall which is just a little fancier than the usual shabby roadside warung. It was just 5 mins walk from our hotel, Puri Mesari in Sanur.

We were really hungry from diving and thoroughly enjoyed the good food here!

L-R: There was satay babi (much better than the tough, dry ones at the hotel!!), grilled barracuda, grilled cuttlefish, grilled king prawns, nasi goreng and mee goreng/ Avocado juice with chocolate sauce!/ Avocado and shrimp salad.

I love avocados! We only have imported ones here and they cost a bomb! RM5.99 to 8.99 per avocado!!

This is apparently the most famous babi guling (roasted pig) place in Bali. Babi Guling Ibu Oka in Ubud. This is her house, her shop down the road was full.

The babi guling here is without doubt, done to perfection! The meat is amazingly soft and tender, it pulls apart so easily. And the divine crackling is thin and so crisp! It is no wonder that the place is packed everyday! The accompanying dishes like the soup and vegetables however, are just so so. But the sambal was wonderfully super spicy!

When we visited to the kitchen, we found the staff turning the spit by hand and the babi roasting over real firewood! It takes 4hrs to roast one pig! These details are what makes the perfect babi guling at Ibu Oka!( I sound like an advertisement!) lol!

In Ubud, after everyone had a good massage at Sang Spa, we had dinner at Bumbu Bali. It's owner was a chef at a 5 star hotel. They offer authentic Balinese food, among other things. They conduct cooking classes as well, and one was under way when we were there.

L-R: Chicken cooked in coconut milk was rather tasteless/ The satay babi with rice was okay only, though the rice was very nice, with crunchy beans cooked into it/ The bebek bertutu (smoked duck) was very good!

On the last night, we changed hotels to Sun Island Hotel near Kuta. Hubby and I rented a motorbike and went gallivanting round town! :) This is when we discovered this soto ayam stall together with a satay babi stall surrounded with many people waiting to be served! This is a sure sign of good food!

The soto ayam was just a spicy soup with a few sad pieces of chicken and some strings of glass noodles. But I did enjoy it, as it was very tasty, with plenty of spices and MSG! lol!

Oh the satay babi!! This satay babi I think was the best thing we had during our whole stay in Bali! And the cheapest too! (Only 30sen per stick) It was soooo juicy and tender and tasty! No wonder there was such a large crowd waiting for this heavenly satay! It was wrapped in paper and served with whole chillies and salt. Sigh.... yummy...

This is Segara Asian, at Discovery Mall, Kuta, right on the beach and facing the sunset! It was definitely a magical location. Unfortunately when we were there, the sun was behind the clouds :( But it was still a pleasant evening, with a magnificent view.

The place is lovely, with a pool and huge colourful paper lanterns.

The food however was just slightly above average.

L-R: Duck three ways/ virgin pina colada and Bintang beer/ grilled cuttlefish

So that was the food chapter.... diving chapter next!
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