Semarang, Indonesia

Indonesia was a former Dutch colony. Semarang, our second Java stop, was a major port town during the Dutch colonial era. Thus, Dutch colonial buildings can be easily located here, mostly around Old Quarter. Some have been renovated to turn into a cafe, restaurant, administrative building or art gallery. But I believe greater efforts could have and should be poured in to preserve them. It is a shame, really, because poor maintenance seemed to be a common problem among not just the historical, religious sites but also the lodgings/ hostels. In fact, I would like to think such a matter outlined some important characteristics of the people in this region (ya, including my fellow Malaysians) but I shall leave the debate of it out of this blog.

Gereja Blenduk/ Dome church

Architecture around Old Quarter. Half of the time we were chilling inside either the art gallery or the cafe having coffee and beers. We could have explored the interiors of these buildings more. Alas, it was simply too hot to move around much.

We did stroll a bit further with our motorbike to stumble across what seemed to be a church and some residential housing.

The Great Mosque of Central Java. No stranger to mosques since I live in Malaysia but I must admit this is the most majestic and unique mosque I have come across. And this attraction was also part of the reason I included Semarang in my itinerary. We arrived before noon, waited for it to reopen after lunch break just so we could take the lift to the uppermost floor of the viewing tower to have a bird’s-eye view of the mosque and nearby towns.

Lawang Sewu. This landmark used to be the headquarters of the Dutch East Indies Railway Company and is lined with numerous doors and windows. After World War II, a battle broke out there and many died at the scene. Rumor has it that the building is haunted. If I am not mistaken, public is forbidden to visit the place after 6pm or 630pm. We almost couldn’t make it that afternoon but in the end, we managed to stay until it was almost dark. When night fell, the whole building was brightly lit, looking mystical from afar.

Shanghai, Part 1

It came as no surprise that I love Shanghai. Big cities brimming with lights when the night falls where hurrying throng of unfamiliar faces pass by you – each with their own story to tell but you get no glimpse inside their inner world. Even then, you take comfort in knowing that you are not alone amid the crowd. It is a funny way of detaching yourself without feeling the painful isolation.

I was staying in Fuzhou Road. Little did I know beforehand that it is also known as the cultural or book street, where stores selling books, stationery, supplies for calligraphy etc are found. So I spent my first afternoon in Shanghai excitedly checking out one bookstore after another. Among them are the multistorey Shanghai Foreign Languages Bookstore and Shanghai Book City (brother would kill to be here because of the huge collection of Mandarin titles on display). Put aside the more established and well-known stores, small stalls selling used or brand new books/ magazines attended mostly by elders could be found hidden at some corners or alleys. The entire time I was debating if I should shop for some Mandarin books for myself (esp those that are hard to come by in Malaysia). At last, I decided against it as I wouldn’t finish reading them anyway 😦 😦

Fuzhou road where I stayed. Gotta love the buildings around and it was not packed with tourists.

Books and more books. Heaven.

Fuzhou road was also where I finally found a family-run restaurant that served nice fulfilling flavorful Chinese cuisines with good price. I was fed up with having dumplings or noodles for past few days so I decided to stop settling for shops that didn’t serve rice no matter how hungry I was. I ended up having almost all of my meals there that the owner and her daughter recognized me as the weird girl.

Nice stuff. Wished I had taken more (and better) photos.

The reason why I chose to stay at the hostel in Fuzhou Road albeit the mixed to negative online reviews was because of the location. The Bund is just few steps away from it and it has a fantastic roof top bar which overlooks everything at night! Not to mention that it is near to the metro station which makes it easy for me to access all the attractions. But I wasn’t happy when I was there staying in the 8-bed female dorm. In fact, I felt so lonely and I craved for human interactions. As expected, all the girls in the room were young local Chinese. This seemed to be the same everywhere else (happened to the last two hostels I booked). Some came with friends, but most were alone. I soon realized that it was common for these girls to travel alone within the country and even when it was not summer break, they would travel around as long as they got few days off from classes. However in this hostel, the girls usually stayed for one night then checked out the next day before someone new joined the room. What drove me crazy was everyone minded their own business, no one looked at you and even if they did, they did it quietly. It was such a shame because I really loved the spacious room and the huge comfortable bed (nevermind the unsightly balcony that was full of clothes hung to be dried by these Chinese travelers). If I were to make friends with any of them, I needed to be the one initiating the conversations. But when I was put in a room with so many girls, I got intimidated. What if my friendliness was mistaken as a weakness or an unwelcoming nosiness? What if they reacted with indifference or hostility? I would feel hurt. I was such a coward, I was no different than them. So I told myself I would book a mixed dorm the very next time. But then again, the thought of sharing a room with so many Chinese guys put me off. Lol. On the last day before check out, finally a new girl said hi to me and conversations followed. Later on, another new girl chipped in. Both girls came from different parts of China and were in Shanghai for different reasons – one to look for a job, another to look for a friend.
As much as I enjoy the sight seeing and having a break from normal routines, I guess the biggest satisfaction comes from the interaction with people of different walks of life made along the journey.

P_20160619_194106_NTView from the roof top bar

Back from China (1)

Hangzhou –> Huangshan Tunxi –> Hangzhou –> Shanghai (15th – 21st June)

This is my first international solo budget trip. I have been wanting to do it for the longest time ever – China and solo. Nothing would ever stop me, now that I am single.

For a long time I thought I would never wanna do a China trip. We heard about horrible China people on news all the time and all the crazy stunts they commit and how things could go wrong in China in the weirdest way possible. Also, despite being raised and educated in the Mandarin Chinese dialect in addition to other languages, I have been trying to steer clear of my Chineseness since my early twenties by ditching all Mandarin dramas, newspapers (and other reading materials) so that eventually my thought processes are all well put together in English. It was like I couldn’t fully reap the benefits of my English improvement attempts if I didn’t get rid of the Chinese side of me to make room for it, if that ever makes sense to you. However, China started to appeal to me few years back after reading “Five Star Billionaire” by a Malaysian author Tash Aw. It piqued my interest and curiosity to find out how China has developed herself in recent years and how different exactly are their people compared to those of us overseas. Needless to say, I faced disapproval and scorn from others when I said I was going, especially among the peers who thought China is no good. That only reinforced my desire to visit since I never aim to please everyone and be mainstream.

Suffice to say, the trip itself definitely opened up my eyes. Hangzhou and Shanghai have rather developed and systematic public transportation system to get around the main places of attraction. The streets, parks and all are cleaner than KL, really put KL to shame. If anything, I felt safer there mainly because I blended in rather easily thus didn’t stand up to attract any unwanted attention albeit with my huge backpack which was rather uncommon in sight as local tourists traveled with luggage. The same couldn’t be said about KL or some parts of Malaysia though due to the influx of South Asian migrants and Middle Eastern tourists. I had no fear or hesitation to wear short pants there as it is common among the Chinese girls, unlike Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia where exposing more skin is akin to asking for more stares from the public. All in all, it was all good and safe for a single female traveler to move around in China big cities, as most sign boards come with English for those who barely read Mandarin.

Having said that, my feelings were complicated there. On one hand, I proudly shared with the locals that I am a third-generation Malaysian Chinese, knowing for certain that I would be relished in admiration where they started complimenting on my great spoken Mandarin and my ability to speak other languages. On the other hand, I felt inadequate because that was all the advantage I have over them, nothing more. I might have an easy and comfortable life back home, but these people (especially the young ones) have hopes and opportunities, plenty of them. This realization came when I entered an eatery shop to have my first meal in China. I sat at the table, not knowing what to do because I was used to waiter coming to me to take order. Then a bunch of girls coming in, started placing their order by taking the ingredients they wanted near the counter before passing over to kitchen for food preparation. I followed suit, only to be shoved around by these girls until they were done. When I looked at them, I realized I have been “softened” – I could have been more ruthless because the world out there is a harsh place, just that I am getting all too cozy with what I have now.

But when I thought of the men there (sorry, I am a superficial visual creature) and I felt bad for the local women who have to put up with these men. I obviously felt relieved that their Chinese counterparts in Malaysia and Singapore seemed better options and even that, I am dating outside my race now. Put myself into the women’s shoes, if I had to decide between choosing one of the local men or staying single, I would choose the later. But that is just me being all superior and shit.

Packing
I tried to pack as simple and as practical as possible into my newly purchased 60L backpack, avoiding hand carry of any sort for the ease of moving around freely.
Items I had to actually leave back last minute *sad face*
– Forever 21 lady sling bag & China travel guide & a book
Items I forgot to bring (duh!!!)
– phone charger USB cable & printed self-prepared travel itinerary which contained EVERY SINGLE DETAILS!!!
Items I wish I had brought
– umbrella (as it was proven to be more useful compared to disposable rain coat)
Items I was thankful to bring along
– sneakers and waist pouch bag where I kept my valuables (although it didn’t look great as the girls at the nail salon initially thought I was a street trader)
Items I should have left behind
– camera as I used my phone camera throughout the entire trip

Javanese cuisines and doing it the local way

I love food so I made a point to try out the local food I identified that is famous in each of the cities I went to. Maybe it was just me, but the food didn’t come as cheap as I imagined, even after the currency conversion 😦 But locals were paying the same amount, nevertheless. Anyway, below are some of them (do click for bigger view)! Enjoy!

Solo

Sate buntel is mutton satay covered in fat and served to enjoy together with sweet soy sauce, sliced red onion and chilies, tomatoes etc. We were lucky to have spot that shop full of patrons while getting lost on bike that we knew we just had to stop to join in. We noticed the locals were also enjoying a few other mutton-based dishes which looked really yummy, but we could never find our way back to this shop to sample them.

Nasi Liwet (left) is steamed rice served on banana leaves cooked with chicken broth along with chicken, boiled egg, tofu and I believe to be coconut milk or santan. Unfortunately, I didn’t like coconut milk and although the rice was piquant, I somewhat found this to be overrated especially when you walked into a street and there were an entire row of shops selling the same thing. Tongseng (right), on the other hands, is curry-like mutton stewed with vegetables with distinctive taste of sweetness which was appetizing. We liked it so much that we ended up ordering for it few times at different places.

While in Solo, we managed to stumble across one of the morning markets which we believed to have started as early as 7am because by the time we arrived, the crowd had mostly already dispersed with the stall owners getting ready to pack. What was new is that locals enjoyed their food by sitting on the mats prepared by the eatery stalls, as can be seen from the pictures. So did we follow? Oh hell yeah. And the noodles shown on the right pic, was exactly what everyone else was eating. The noodles couldn’t be bad so we ordered one for ourselves too!

Semarang

In Semarang, we had Tahu Gimbal – fried tofu cooked with sweet and spicy shrimp paste which was served with lontong covered shrimp gravy, chilli, egg, prawn, cabbages and peanut sauce. To soothe our thirst on the hot day, we ordered coconut water served with its meat and jelly. And next to us, was a huge tent set up along the roadside which gave you a glimpse of how the locals (mostly office workers from nearby) had their daily lunch – seated next to one another (could be friends or strangers) around long table enjoying the food.One of the most fulfilling meals we had. Regretfully, we had to leave Semarang without trying the famous lumpia – spring rolls stuffed with fillings like eggs or vegetables influenced by the Chinese community settled down in Semarang in the early days.

Cirebon

After having enough of lontong in coconut milk (eww) in Semarang, I was ready to move on to Cirebon only to discover quite a drastic change of food in terms of how they tasted, were served and displayed in this city compared to previous two. The famous one was Nasi Jamblang (right) where a variety of dishes was readily served on table. All you needed to do was grabbed a seat then picked the dishes you wanted along with white rice and you walked away with only having to pay what you had chosen. We also decided to treat ourselves something fancier by having our lunch in a nice restaurant where the waiters brought to us all the dishes they had in plates (see bottom left). Similarly, we took whatever we fancied and they would take note of that during billing time so we just had to pay accordingly for the dishes we took. We did wonder what they were gonna do with the remaining dishes left untouched. Would they go to waste? Or would they be served to the next walk-in customers? One could easily be overwhelmed with the many choices presented, but after 3 meals, we were once again ready to leave because frankly the food simply didn’t suit our taste buds due to the blatant spiciness.

Bandung

I often reiterated to friends that Malaysian fried rice and noodles were nothing compared to Indonesian. I was craving for some, so at this point I stopped trying unfamiliar local dishes by sticking to some of the most delicious nasi goreng and mee goreng. How do they do it?! How come theirs always taste better than ours hmmm.

JakartaDSCF3261

We didn’t stay long in Jakarta, but our guide brought us to this guy who was selling kerak telor – rice mixed with duck egg and spices like dried shrimp before it was served folded. We believed it would have tasted nicer if we ate it immediately while still hot 😦

I’m Moving

DSCF1754DSCF1753 I am not moving to KL as wished. Instead, I am moving to a new room, new house. It has not been easy, with all the self-doubt. I might be a bit hasty in my decision-making but what needs to be done has to be done. The new room isn’t exactly how I wanted it to be – I was imagining a bright, inviting room with me laying on a comfy reading chair sipping cold beers overlooking a huge window. Nevertheless, a new environment is still a change, a much-needed change. So I am now happily Googling tips to decorate and transform the room. Stay tune!

My Guide to Living a Fabulous 2015

Title might be misleading. What I meant is how-I-gonna-make-the-most-of-2015 through 1) higher productivity and 2) greater ownership of my life

1) Sleep early
2) Wake up as early as 3am
– I am an early bird. My peak performance times fall in the morning where I can concentrate and think best. That’s the time I reflect on the day before, set my goals for the day then break them into an action plan with baby steps to achieve. The tricky part is when I ought to have my breakfast as I tend to get hungry at all the wrong hours if it is not arranged properly.
3) Have warm lemon water every morning, green tea everyday after lunch and vegetable juice min 3 times a week
– Not even gonna try to quit my coffee, unless I want to make my day miserable
4) Limit the night to light dinner (i.e soup, vegetable juice or bread) unless on days I am really craving for rice.
5) Exercise (running and trekking) a min 3 times per week
– Set goals (i.e. climbing Mount Kinabalu)
6) Listen more musics, watch more movies, read more and cook more but most importantly, ADD VARIETY
7) Enforce compulsory 30 minutes of finance/ investment learning every morning
8) Whatever your heart wants, buy it (be it sneakers/ tablet)!!
9) Read more useful stuff online (i.e. The Economist) rather than stalk people’s FB or respond to useless topics on forum
10) Give zero fuck about what peers have to say
– I know what I want/ what is best for me than following the trend

More importantly, I want myself to acknowledge that I have the ultimate power over my own body and mind, that I am solely responsible for own well-being so I must take charge of them.

Fark

Just when I was feeling so proud of myself for managing to grab return tickets from Sarawak-Kuala Lumpur-Ho Chi Minh City-Kuala Lumpur-Sarawak for a total of RM310 (USD98) during AirAsia’s latest zero fares promo.. I found out that I mixed up my Sarawak-Kuala Lumpur flight details. So now I have to fork out additional >RM120 (USD39) to buy new ones because AirAsia’s promo deals don’t allow booking changes (tickets to be forfeited).

With the additional charges being added up, I could have used it to go to another (more expensive) destination, i.e. Lombok or Bali :((

Next time, I shall be more cautious and less overly excited. And it would have been nice if I work/ stay in a city with International airport where I don’t have to transit like always in Kuala Lumpur.