A week of firsts …

After a while, once you get used to your new surroundings, even somewhere as different as Malaysia can seem a bit same-old, same-old.  So it was very exciting last week to do a whole host of new things.

For starters, I went into Chinatown and had my first ever frog porridge –

I have to admit that I was a little trepidatious – but more about the porridge than the frog – we francophiles don’t blanch at the thought of snarfing down an amphibian or two.

It was jolly delicious, and I am now a convert to Chinese rice porridge, which I have avoided for ever, because I loathe English porridge so much.

See – I was even smiling afterwards.

I also tried hot tofu with sugar syrup for the first time, from a little man with a cart, next to the fake designer handbags –

I’ve been converted to this, too – Chinatown seems to be my personal road to Damascus at the moment.

We went to visit the famous duck stall, which has been in the market for decades, and I was surprised to see that it was really just a glorified trolley –

But the queue was huge and the duck was amazing –


And then, I’m proud to say, I cooked my very first Malaysian supper party, with an authentic Peranakan recipe, from the Straits Chinese repertoire, called Pongteh.  It’s a kind of chicken stew, so off I went to the special shop for more Mozart Listening Chicken – I like to think I’m dealing with cultured poultry when I’m cooking.

And here it is –

– all brown and ambrosial – with the roast duck in the foreground, reheated to prefection.  It’s just a pity that I don’t have any serving dishes, so it looks like a meal from the soup kitchen.

My next delicious first was Yuzu – a citrus liqueur that is so much nicer than limoncello –

And after the second glass, I sat murmuring ‘where have yuzu been all my life?’

Then, after pongteh came gula’pong.  I’m not sure what ‘pong’ means in Bahasa, I tried putting it into google translate, and it told me that it also means ‘pong’ in English, but I’m sure that can’t be right.  If it was, durian would be called pong, and it isn’t.

I was delighted to learn that although gula’pong is made from a type of palm sugar and cream, it is a healthy dessert –

with extra sugar poured over the top … just to make it even healthier –

And then to round off my food-related firsts this week, I was trapped in the lift with a trolleyful of durian yesterday –

The young chap was very apologetic about the smell, and explained that he was holding a durian-eating competition later that evening for his friends.  I was very glad that he got out of the lift a good ten floors below me – I felt pretty sure the pong wouldn’t carry that far.

The only negative side to my week of firsts has been Mr Toad’s very strange behaviour ever since the frog porridge –

I’ve tried telling him that nobody eats toad porridge, but he just stares lugubriously at me.  I had no idea that toads were prone to such attention-seeking behaviour.



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Updates from the chalkface

And another riveting English lesson gets under way …

I was rather disappointed that my new pupil, Gladys, didn’t turn up for class on Saturday.  I pictured her with her hair in rollers and a mop in her hand, looking rather out of place amongst the eight-year-olds in the class. And then she didn’t even show up – but perhaps she had an emergency floor to mop.

I’m rather enjoying my new EFL class, for children with virtually no English, which started this week.  It makes a change from the usual near-fluent kids we have and gives me a lot of amusement.

Me: So, let’s practise our basic numbers again.  Ten plus ten equals …?

Student: Tuesday!

Me:  OK – let’s try another one.  Ten plus two equals …?

Student: Tissue!

Me: Hmmm.  Let’s try colours instead.

As I say, it makes a change from our usual children, who put me in my place quite regularly.  Last week a six-year-old asked me, ‘Miss Louise, why do you talk all the time?’

Now in my natural milieu, with teenagers, I would have shot back with something like, ‘because I’m the teacher, and you won’t learn much if we all sit here in silence.’

But I’m not used to six-year-olds and don’t want a lesson filled with howling and snivelling, so I responded very politely with, ‘Oh, do I talk too much?’

‘Yes,’  she said.

‘Shall I stop talking, then?’

‘Well, you can say something …. just don’t say too much.’

So that was me put in my place.

And then this week, the same child asked if we could sing a song, so I agreed and started off with Old Macdonald.

‘Oh my God!’ she said.  ‘You’re singing kids’ songs.’

‘Don’t you like kids’ songs?’ I asked (bad move, in retrospect).

‘No, I like sexy songs and sad songs.  My favourite is Ariana Grande.  Can we sing I’m into you?’

So we did – and she was word perfect.

Six-year-olds are a whole new breed nowadays.


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A handbag?

Mahathir, Malaysia’s new prime minister, turned 93 this week, while his wife is a sprightly 92. But his impending century has not lessened his determination to expose the corruption of his predecessor, Najib, and Najib’s extremely unpopular wife, Rosmah.

The whole country has been agog at the details emerging during the search of their home.

So far, 116.7 million Ringgits has been found in cash, which is nearly £22 million – a lot of it stuffed into handbags … and what handbags!

This woman has 272 Hermes Birkin bags alone, worth over £10 million. Apparently they were all gifts from well-wishers, although whether they were already stuffed with money when she received them, or whether she stuffed them herself at a later date is unclear.

But Hermes bags are cheap compared with Bijan bags (the yellow one on the right in this picture), as I’ve learnt from the newspapers. I’d never heard of them before, but now I know that they’re so exclusive that their shop is ‘by invitation only’ and the diamond-encrusted bags are upwards of $100,000 (US). But I expect that Rosmah only has one for sentimental reasons … Bijan is Najib spelt backwards.

And it doesn’t stop at handbags –

– and if a diamond-encrusted watch doesn’t do it for you, how about some diamonds without the watch –

Anyway, my thinking is that they’ll need to sell all this booty to recoup some of the government money that disappeared into Najib’s personal bank account, so I shall be scouring Chinatown for a sale of cheap, second-hand Hermes bags.

So, would anyone else like one while I’m there?

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Shopping … Malaysian-style

Shopping in Malaysia can be a frustrating experience; customer service is an unknown concept, and it’s not unusual to be ignored in a shop while the many, many assistants all stand around glued to their phones.  I’m afraid that this attitude brings out the Mem Sahib in me, and I march up to one of them and say, ‘Excuse me, is this shop actually open for business?’ in ringing tones.

In a restaurant recently I asked the waitress about one of the dishes on the menu.  She went into great detail about the way it was cooked, the size of the portion, suitable side dishes, and then said, ‘finish already’.

‘Finish already’ is a favourite phrase, meaning ‘we’ve sold out of whatever it is you want, and we don’t know – or care – whether we’ll ever get any more stock in.  And what’s more, we don’t care if we stand around all day and don’t sell a thing – we don’t own the company.’

So, I was surprised to hear a shop assistant in a shoe shop really going the extra mile with the customer service last week:

Customer: I think I’ll take two pairs.

Assistant: Two pairs, Madam?  So, do you mean left and right and left and right?

Customer: Well, … yes.

There are some rather unusual things for sale here too.  For example – how about having your breast milk made into soap?

Just the thing for the Aunties at Christmas.

And my local deli sells Mozart Listening Chicken –

I was intrigued and googled the company, to discover that it’s quite well-known and has featured on the Smithsonian website –

I read about their philosophy –

– so Mozart leads to happier, less smelly chickens.

But I just imagine them all on death row squawking, ‘Oh no, not yet!  Please can I just listen to the end of Eine Kleine Nacht -‘



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