Friday, December 14, 2007

Where Have I Been???

So I haven't put anything up here lately. Not because I haven't wanted to, but because I have been feeling like hell. No, this isn't a bad case of food poisoning or uncontrollable homesickness. It isn't even some tropical disease picked up from wandering in the jungle without proper shoes on, quite the contrary. I started taking the anti-malarial drug Mefloquine (Lariam) for my upcoming visit to Sri Lanka and had some severe side effects that rendered me pretty much worthless for a couple of days. Apparently this drug has a history of doing that. I am feeling better now, so no worries.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The wild side of Penang

Penang is a very tourist oriented place, as I have alluded to in previous posts. But, it is still possible to find some more remote areas, free from the throngs of visitors. In fact on the west side of the island, you would hardly guess there were 2 million people living here

This is a Chinese fishing village. These kids were very eager to impress with their English Vocabulary, things like "Hello" and "Goodbye". Really cute.

Penang also has a national park. This is what the forest looks like. Very dense and dark, aided by the fact that it was a little overcast. Still, a really neat place to hike with monkeys crashing through the trees and lots of birds that I couldn't see.

Sooooo, the next time I go hiking in a jungle, I am going to wear shoes.....

and finally, a really big lizard. not a crocodile, but a monitor. This guy was probably 5 feet long or so.

My time here on the island is drawing down, and I am actually looking forward to getting back to Bangkok. I like it here, but can do without all the noise and litter of the tourists. It's a little surprising. But not before going to the main city on the island, Georgetown.

Friday, December 7, 2007

I am still in Penang. I was originally planning on going to the Cameron Highlands after the conference was done, but right now is the holiday season in Malaysia and many of the travel options were booked. Besides, it is raining profusely there right now, and I get plenty of that in Oregon.

What does the "holiday season" mean here? Well, aside from the school holiday for Malaysians, this is also the time of year for some major time off for mid-east countries. People from Kuwait, Iran and Saudi Arabia come here in droves since they get 7 weeks off.

And this only adds to the melting pot feel of the place. Malaysia is one of the most diverse places that I can imagine. There are large populations of Chinese and Indian, in addition to smatterins of Thai, Bangaladeshies and many more. Much of this relates back to policies that were in place during the British occupation. What does all this mean to me? Good food, amongst other things. The food here is amazing. Whatever you want you can pretty much find, and usually from a street vendor. But I think that the Malay cuisine is the most interesting. Today I had some fish head curry. There is more in it than fish heads of course and wow, what a delicious meal.

The conference I was attending has now ended and I got a chance to do some exploring. But more on that later, after I get some pictures together.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


I have arrived in Malaysia. Currently I am on the island of Penang, otherwise known as the Jewel of the Orient. Formerly a colony of Britain, the island is now invaded by hordes of Europeans coming for sunshine and white sand splashed with gentle surf, both of which can be found in abundance. This place seems much different from the hectic environs of Bangkok, although I have had precious little time in either location thus far. Here is a distinction that stands out in my mind between the two: I took a cab to the airport yesterday. The driver was keen to mention that I should put on my seatbelt. In hind sight this should have been a warning. Once the road opened up, the driver did too, giving me what was hands down the most harrowing cab ride of my life. He made sure to point out at one point that we were traveling in excess of 140 km per hour. This is in contrast to most people around us doing 80 or so. And nearly every cab I was in had similar experiences associated with it. In contrast, the ride from the airport here in Penang was serene and mellow, so much so that I was able to gawk at the monkeys I saw hanging out on a road sign. Thats not to say the cabbies can't be reckless here, but the general mood of the place just feels more relaxed. Perhaps this is because we are on a tropical island. Or maybe it has something to do with the rigor imposed Islam. For Malaysia is a country that is governed under the auspices of the Koran. The reality of this struck me as I disembarked from the plane to find women in headdresses, and some even in full burka. The point was further driven home as I lay on my bed, resting in the AC of the room while the evening call to prayer from the mosque behind me wrapped everything in somber tones, and the dark banter of roosting crows filled in the gaps with eerie and forlorn tension. Clearly I am in a foreign land. An austere version of paradise. But no less beautiful for it, with friendly people and cold beer (despite its ontradiction to the Koran).

Some pictures of a brief stay in Bangkok

This is a statue at one of the temples in Bangkok, Wat Pho.

An example of some of the ornate architecture.

One of the infamous tuk tuks. These are little three wheeled vehicles that whisk people around town. Not as scary as the cabs because they don't go as fast.

There are a few more pics up on my flickr page, whose link is over in the side bar.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Comprehensive list of all the bizarre foods I have encountered in Japan

I thought that this might interest some of you, or maybe make your stomach turn.

Sashimi: sliced raw fish. not really that weird, since you can get this in the states, but I'm starting small. This also includes octopus, squid and clams

Ikura: Raw salmon eggs. Yuk.

Hot Sake with Fish: Already mentioned in previous post.

Sea Lantern: Some sort of urchin like thing that tastes like ocean water

Jellyfish: Texture is what you would expect, chewy. Technically not Japanese food since I had it at a Taiwanese place. Pretty tasty actually.

Chicken cartilage: You know when you eat a drumstick, theres that chewy stuff around the joint. They put that on a skewer and serve it as yakitori here. I'm not wild about it.

Raw egg over Japanese sweet potato: Raw egg is slimy. The sweet potatoes here are slimy. What's not to love?

Fermented bonito flakes: Bonito is a type of fish. They ferment it with a fungus that dries it out and allows it to remain edible for a long time. Looks like the shavings you put in a hamster cage, tastes pretty good.

Natto: Fermented soybeans. Eaten for breakfast with mustard and onions. Taste depends on where it is from.

Grilled pregnant fish: I can't remember the name of these right now, but they look kinda like sardines, except they are full of eggs. When served you get the entire fish; head, tail and all.

Sea snake: not so great

Tripe stew: Also available in the states. However the weirdness was accentuated by having it for breakfast.

Onsen egg: An egg, cooked in hot water direct from the earth. In theory this is an appealing idea. In practice, it isn't that far away from a raw egg. I can't stand to have my omelette runny, so I am not impressed in the least.

Lichen wrapped sushi: Not sure of the species, I think that it's a Leptogium, but definately some sort of cyanolichen. This was also served by itself as a side dish with a sesame sauce. Good.

Dried seafoods of various kinds: Popular as snack foods here.

I had the next four things all at one sitting while at an izakaya (Japanese style bar) in Kyoto.

Extremely fresh shellfish of some sort: One of the pieces contracted when I touched it with my chopsticks. Kinda chewy.

Fried crocodile: Not sure what else it tastes like, or why they were serving it for that matter. I guess because they can.

Frog legs: It really does taste like chicken.

And the winner for weirdest Japanese food....

Raw horse meat: It's served frozen. You dip it in soysauce with ginger and garlic. Pretty good, although it feels a little weird to admit that. It's going to be hard to say "I'm a vegetarian" when I get back to the states, although I do plan to resume that practice. They put meat in just about everything here, and I am a little tired of it.

For the record, I was offered and turned down whale at this izakaya by my host in Kyoto. I have a line that I won't cross, and that is it. Primates are also on the same side, as well as anything else that could potentially be an endangered species. I asked to see where whale was on the menu, so that I would know the kanji for future reference. It wasn't on the menu. You have to be able to ask for it. This is a highly political issue, and I suspect that maybe they shouldn't have been serving that particular item.

So there you have it. My adventures in Japanese food. Somehow, non of this has given me any sort of upset stomache. Although after the izakaya experience, I thought that I might. Probably more a psychological thing than effect of any food that I ate.

Friday, August 10, 2007

some long overdue pictures

This is the guy who was selling the toad oil up on Tsukuba mountain. I actually got to see the sales pitch(performance) on another visit and snapped this photo.

One example of the interesting mix of people that Tokyo creates: Very proper businessman shoulder to shoulder with some party girls who were nodding off. If you look closely at the one on the right I think you can see some drool.

The Northern Japanese Alps.

The obligatory dead insect photo. Not sure how I made it this far into the summer without putting one of these on here. This is Tilachlidiopsis nigra for those of you interested in such things. For those of you not interested just call it Neal.

The Hanabi fireworks. I don't know if you have tried or not, but it is quite hard to take good pictures of fireworks. Anyway.....

The pine islands of Matsushima.

In a weird twist, sushi used to be anything but raw fish. It was actually (yet another) fermented product. So instead of it being super fresh, with nothing done to it aside from the slicing, it was intentionally "rotted". Ahhhh Japan. Consequently it is quite tasty. The fish is on the other side of the rice cake, but that is a dried shrimp you see, not sure what the blue stuff is. Since this is Japan we are talking about it is probably something like flakes of dried sea slugs or the diced plumes of pheasant feathers. This was from the foray with the Amateur Cordyceps Club in Aomori.

Coming soon (hopefully) some pictures of Kyoto, the city I want to spend the last of my days in.