KUL Do trip Jan 16

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by violist, Mar 28, 2016.  |  Print Topic

  1. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    UA 775 BOS ORD 0923 1120 320 3F

    Not having made the 0555 flight, I had plenty of time to
    chill at the United club and try to get my onward boarding
    passes, which would help my 85-minute connection in Hong
    Kong. Diane and Lynne at the desk were unable to crack the
    Thai code, but that was kind of OK, as I went to the Amadeus
    Website and got the information using a United PNR, and it
    was smooth sailing, as there is now a customer-use printer
    in the club, recently installed. All the paperwork was
    completed with time to spare, so I had a cup of hot
    chocolate before wandering down to the somewhat chaotic
    gate area, where they were trying to find me.

    My seatmate was one of the most unfailingly polite people
    I've ever flown with. He did have a cough, though.

    Flight attendants were pretty nice - a burly Asian guy
    and a petite blonde who worked the front.

    Breakfast was offered - French toast with vanilla sauce
    or quiche with mozzarella sauce, that was what I heard
    anyway. I said it didn't matter which I got.

    What came.

    The fruit appetizer had actual sweet, firm ripe fruit - a
    big strawberry, chunks of pineapple and cantaloupe, and
    some red seedless grapes. And the quiche, which as it
    turns out didn't have a sauce at all (I breathed a sigh
    of relief).

    The three half fingerlings looked interesting, so I decided
    to give potatoes a tabula rasa investigation. H'm. Bland and
    starchy with a little earthy undertone, the skins adding a
    metallic accent. They just cried out "nourishment," and I
    suppose if I were a nomad in the steppes or a starving
    tenant farmer, these might have been welcome. In my real
    life, there are better things to eat.

    Steamed asparagus viewed the same way seemed quite strange -
    people say that it was a brave soul who first ate an oyster
    (lobster, whatever). I wonder whose bright idea it was to
    try asparagus, whose appearance is peculiar and whose aroma
    is strange. They're chlorophylly and with a peculiarly
    unappetizing back aroma (something I don't remember from
    stir-fried or raw - it must take some heating to achieve
    this unpleasant condition).

    Quiche. A full restaurant-size serving of custard overheated
    to provide maximum spongy texture; pretty bland with a vaguely
    cheeselike flavor; minced red peppers here and there added
    nothing. An additional side was a chicken-basil sausage that
    had been heated to dry crumbliness, the texture robbing the
    palate of moisture and of the will to eat.

    A choice of biscuit or cinnamon roll. I chose the latter to
    take my mind off the detritus in front of me. Though not so
    nice as the old Continental rolls, it was fairly palatable.

    We landed 15 early, which greatly pleased me, as if we had
    been 15 late, my connection might have been tough to make.

    We also landed, miracle of miracles, 2 gates away from where
    our next aircraft was parked.

    It looked like half the passengers on the one flight were
    trooping over to the other. And come to think of it, I
    recall that the two at one time used to operate under the
    same number, with through flyers being cheated out of
    something like 700 miles. And, as I recall from the dim
    distant past, some upgrades, too.
  2. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    It turned out we'd arrived in plenty of time for me to get a
    bowl of weird soup at the club. This was "loaded baked potato
    soup," with bits of tuber and bacon and a substantial dairy
    presence that manifested itself by an aroma that approximated
    baby puke. Not worth the pills. I have subsequently seen this
    labeled as "baked potato soup" and "potato soup." It smells
    to be the same stuff.

    A quick stroll to the gate, where I arrived in the midst
    of the scrum.

    UA 895 ORD HKG 1310 1920 772 7H

    Loading went okay, despite many people not knowing
    the difference among the numbers one, two, and three.
    In due time I settled in my aisle seat (since becoming
    addicted to Lasix I've tended to take aisle seats)
    next to a fellow 1K who sells Chinese lawn furniture
    to Wal-Mart. We were reasonably cordial despite not
    having the slightest anything to say to each other.

    It was beginning to snow in earnest at departure time,
    and deicing took a long time, so we took off an hour
    late. Apparently we spent sone time seeking out
    tailwinds, and we went quite a bit farther north than
    the norm; we actually ended up on time.

    Pleasant, rather impersonal service; just fine with me.

    The usual amusing amuse, a little ramekin of bottom of
    the barrel warm nuts - all broken and coated with lots
    of salt, not the best thing for me but went okay with
    a Courvoisier.

    Prosciutto and melon - Hemispheres makes a big deal
    about the ham, well, it shouldn't. This wasn't really
    prosciutto - hardly qualified as prosciutto cotto, much
    less the real thing. The melon was quite acceptable.
    Garnish - a caperberry and a couple olives.

    The salad, reasonably fresh greens topped with a
    vinaigrette, shreds of decent grana, and a couple
    bits of sundried tomato, was not bad.

    My main course was turbot, not the world's best, which
    I still remember from MXP-IAD a couple decades ago, but
    not bad either; this came in a weird shellfish sauce that
    made the otherwise not objectionable lentils on the side
    strangely bitter - I suspect overcooked tomalley. This
    came with two decent shrimp and a julienne of carrots and
    summer squashes.

    Ch. Fontenelle is a pleasant rather neutral red Bordeaux
    that did not do too badly by the fish.

    A cheese course with grapes was offered. I had some grapes.

    I passed up a glass of Q. do Noval Tawny in favor of a
    Courvoisier, which came at Siberian cellar temperature.

    What was billed as gelato was really ordinary ice cream.
    How'd I find out? I refused the offer but was issued some
    anyway. Nice crunch from the vanilla seeds ... whoops ...
    there weren't any vanilla seeds. I wonder what that was
    all about. Ah, well, you eat a peck o' dirt in your life,
    so they say.

    Five hours of sleep. I just happened to be awake when one
    of the FAs came by with an offer of soup, which he said
    he was "cooking" and which would be out in 20 minutes. It
    really took 30, but that doesn't make a whole lot of
    difference in the middle of a 15-hour flight. When it came,
    it was seafood wonton mee with shrimp (pretty good) and
    scallops (not so good), the broth made of mushrooms and
    pretty savory, the noodles with just the right bounce,
    hard to do I think in an airplane galley.

    Back to sleep for a while, then I watched the heartrending
    Amy, which makes Mitch Winehouse and Blake Somebody out to
    be pretty monstrous people (I suppose they probably were).

    We were making great progress, and I was envisioning a nice
    hour or more in the Royal First lounge. I dozed off again
    with 33 minutes left on the clock, and when I woke close to
    anticipated landing, well, there were still 33 minutes on
    the clock, and we'd gone out to sea, missing Hong Kong
    altogether and making a few turns. The captain came on and
    pled traffic congestion.

    Well, after all that, we still ended up ten early, thanks
    to tailwinds and the miracle of schedule padding. I got to
    the transfer desk, where they rejected my boarding pass,
    as I knew they would, and were astonished by my being on a
    United flight that actually came in early. I was issued
    nicer more sightly and official-looking passes both for the
    next flight and the one the next day.
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  3. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    The lounge is five minutes away, and after running a relative
    gauntlet at security, it was not long before I was welcomed
    into the Royal First lounge, which is merely a cordoned-off
    annex to the Royal Silk; the main differences seem to be
    that the Royal Silk is self-service and is near the toilets.

    Mixed nuts were dropped off by a server who I believe also
    doubled as a desk attendant.

    Followed by a no-name Bordeaux and a steamer basket of har
    gow and shumai, all about the same as you'd get for five
    bucks a serving from Trader Joe.

    Dessert was supposed to come, but the staff seemed to be a
    little distracted, so I crossed the sacred border and picked
    up a piece of rainbow cake from the business class side. This
    was a rice-based layered thing with flavors of I don't know,
    maybe hibiscus, pond water, and pandan respectively.

    A bunch of us picked up around 8 and off to the gate, where
    boarding had begun.

    TG 607 HKG BKK 2045 2230 744 2A

    I settled into my quarters, which were about the size of a
    coffin hotel bed and about as comfortable.

    A big heavy desk, somewhat unwieldy though luxurious.

    IFE didn't work; in fact, the whole set of electronics didn't
    work. Ah, well. There is, as it turns out, an override for the
    lights at least, if not for the entertainment. It's on the
    master switch, so my flight attendant explained; she said she
    couldn't figure it out, but her boss could do it "because he is

    A couple pretty amuses on a plate - a pale pastry cup, almost
    uncooked, with some quite nice salmon mousse and an altogether
    too small slice of a wrap with bok choy and char siew - sweet
    but moreish.

    Dom 2004 was clean and refreshing, but I still don't see why
    anyone pays a premium for it. Okay, it's free of any of
    those obnoxious grapy notes; on the other hand it's pretty

    The other featured beverage was 1795 brand Otard, which I
    switched to and stuck with, despite its being less smooth
    than I like, belying its supposedly 30 to 50 year components.

    Prosciutto and melon was made with a good facsimile of the
    real stuff; this was oddly sided with a carrot-onion-pepper
    salad with fish sauce and vinegar.

    A decent pretzel roll; these seem to have become fashionable
    of late - very nice with good butter.

    My main course was beef penang curry, pretty much as expected
    only less spicy, a smallish but satisfying serving. The beef
    had been tenderized.

    The star was the side dish - eggplant with ginger, fish
    sauce, basil, and chiles; this might have been the best
    airplane food I've ever eaten.

    There was a blob of broccoli as well, al dente and

    Perfect rice.

    The purser seemed almost to beg me to take a cheese plate,
    so I did. A nice but unripe cut of a full-size Brie, almost
    tangy enough, plus a slice of a semi-hard cheese whose name
    I forget that used to be the big thing at Trader Joe's - it
    was sort of between Gruyere and Parmesan in taste and texture.

    Chocolate cake was totally insignificant, a little dry, served
    with a pastry puff with supposedly vanilla sauce (turned out
    to be hazelnut).

    Due to traffic congestion, we landed a bit late. This bothered
    me not at all.
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  4. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    There was a buggy to whisk the first-class passengers to
    wherever. I was given the choice of the club (closing at 1 am)
    or immigration. There were two of us, and we both chose the
    latter, so they drove us up to the diplomat lane and saved
    us untold time I guess.

    Outside, back to the hurly-burly of heat, humidity, and lots
    of people. I found the Floral Shire sign with my name on it
    and waited about 15 minutes for the van pickup. A concierge
    escorted me to it. Despite its claiming to be an airport
    hotel, it's in the middle of nowhere and is 20 minutes away.
    Not a big deal, the price is right and the help, though a
    little bumbling, is willing and eventually gets the job done.

    My room was in the older part of the hotel but was essentially
    the same as we had been given last time - kind of spare but
    with all the necessities - a working bathroom, ample beds,
    and drinking water.

    I asked for an 0600 shuttle but was informed that it was full,
    so I got the choice of 0500 or 0700. I took the former, as the
    latter would give me not quite enough cushion for comfort. When
    I checked out at 0445 I discovered that they'd added an 0630,
    which would have been perfect, but I was already awake, which
    was not perfect.

    So early to the Royal Silk lounge, whose charms exhausted
    themselves pretty soon. The breakfast offerings were mostly
    things I don't favor, but there were a few Chineseish pastries,
    including chicken puffs (tasted like Swanson or Banquet frozen
    pot pie, only with less filling) and pretty good minced pork
    bao. The fruit selection was surprisingly pedestrian. I had a
    Chang beer, one of the few brands that is guaranteed to give me
    a headache, and after one wisely switched to the estimable
    Schweppes dry ginger ale.

    It was a bit of a hike to my gate, and I allowed a bit too
    much time and so sat at the waiting area for a quarter hour.

    TG 415 BKK KUL 0845 1155 330 12K

    Thought I'd be a clever boy and pass up the predeparture
    Champers for iced tea, which turned out to be lightly lemoned
    and unbelievably sweet. I should have had the bubbly.

    Breakfast was pretty much as the menu description said, only
    the gai lan didn't actually have oyster sauce but rather some
    thickened soy thing: chilli prawn Singapore style, Chinese
    yellow noodles with baby Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce.
    Pretty good, the noodles with good texture, three medium prawns.

    A fruit appetizer - black grapes and artfully sculpted pieces
    of apple, pineapple, and watermelon, all better than at the club.

    Yogurt, which I didn't eat.

    I settled in for a relax and found a recording of all the
    Rachmaninov piano concertos with Valentina Lisitsa. The
    performances were sort of staid but a little lurchy, not
    the best I'd ever heard. During the flight, with the
    interruptions, I got to hear all of #1 and 2 and a good
    chunk of #3. It seems that my formerly pretty acute
    memory has given way, and there were a a bunch of things
    I didn't remember about #3; also some stuff I'd recalled
    being in #2 (which I interiorly define to be the most
    beautiful piece of music that there is, even in this
    ponderous version) were actually in #3. Someday I should
    sort this all out.

    There was a problem with occasional feedback from the
    imperfect noise-cancelling system, so I was forced to
    listen at a somewhat lower than optimal level; luckily,
    this was a pretty quiet ride all told.

    We landed right on schedule, and immigration formalities
    were incredibly quick, and I had scads of extra time.
    Maybe I should have taken the bus, but the Ekspres
    beckoned with its 28 minutes in luxurious air conditioning
    and essentially to the hotel door. Everything worked
    right according to plan. The fare is MYR55, 10% off if
    you buy through the automated kiosk, an additional 10%
    off if you use MasterCard (I didn't have one with me).
  5. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    I liked the Hilton KL on previous visits, so I passed up
    the Doubletree rooms for 10000 points for it. The Meridien
    next door is at least as nice, but I don't have status
    with them any more.

    In contrast to previous times, I was issued the smallest
    type of room with a city view. Not that that was a terrible
    thing; it was pretty big by non-US standards and quite nice.
    Furthermore, everything worked, so I felt a little embarrassed
    at my overentitledness. Later I talked to Ted and infoworks,
    and both of them told the same tale. It seems that this
    weekend there was an unusual number of weddings and functions.

    The executive lounge, with its lovely views, is closed for
    renovations, not that it needed them, so part of the lobby bar
    area has been turned into a makeshift one. It's okay, and the
    food offerings are comparable to what there was before, maybe
    slightly abbreviated for space reasons, but the difference is
    not significant.

    The first Do event I attended was drinks at the Beach Club Cafe
    on Jalan P Ramlee, a hotbed of bars and iniquity. bschaff1 had
    ordered some buckets of beer (the price increases 50% at 9 pm),
    and lubricated by these we had a jolly old time.

    The house band, thankfully off at the far end of the building,
    is pretty good if loud.

    I passed on dinner, having been well fed for the last few
    days and having had many opportunities in the past to sample
    the wares of Bukit Bintang and Alor Road. The only thing that
    really impressed me was the durians, anyway, and that would
    probably make me an outcast for the rest of the weekend.

    lili flew in in the wee hours next day from Tokyo. I arranged
    with the desk to give her a key so I didn't have to wake up,
    turned down her bed and put a chocolate on it, and slipped
    into mine.

    Next day, a field trip to the ancient capital of Klang, which
    was easy for us, as we could get on right at Sentral and zoop
    right into town. On the platform we met tuapekastar, and we
    rode together, trying for a conversation on the loud though
    reasonably comfortable hour ride toward the coast.

    The rest of the people had been in the rear cars of the
    train, and we met up like an invading coalition army and
    swarmed the formerly bustling but now sleepy city.

    It turns out our main destination, the famous bak kut teh
    place (where the herbally Malaysian version is said to have
    first been formulated) was but a five minute walk from the
    station. We went there immediately, despite most of us having
    recently benefitted from various hotel breakfasts, but were
    told that the only version left was pig foot, the more
    accessible meats having sold out (it was not yet noon). A
    quick discussion and it was determined that nobody but me
    would be interesting in that, so a flurry of smartphone
    inquiries was initiated, the result that another bak kut
    teh place, almost equally famous, was located just a couple
    blocks away. On the way we got good views of the central
    mosque, which is a building of substantial beauty.

    The second restaurant is substantially similar to the other,
    an un-airconditioned open storefront with plastic round
    tables and chairs, the kitchen taking up a side wall. The
    smell of the place was very similar to that of the other,
    with a slightly less prominent odor of cicely or angelica,
    which I found rather overpowering at the first place.

    We filled two of the tables; there were a couple of deuces
    occupied, and the proprietor (who was hugely interested
    in the sudden invasion by foreigners from such places as
    California and Chicago) had a table out back with his

    There was a limited selection here, too, all off-cuts of
    various kinds; none of the cleanly-butchered ribs expected
    by those familiar with Singapore bak kut teh. We got an
    assortment of what appears to me to be neck, knuckle, and
    backbone. The taste - good but murkily medicinal, with tne
    aforementioned angelica, cinnamon, star anise, rhizome
    (that's what it's translated as, I don't know what it
    really is), and a couple other woody barky ingredients.
    With unlimited tea, I believe we paid MYR11 each, a
    bit under $3, that with the usual foreigner tax.

    After this most of us, having exhausted the charms of
    the city, went back on the next train. I, on the other
    hand, had a minor issue - the sole detached, perhaps
    from the heat of the pavement, from one of my shoes.
    We ducked into a shop and inquired about glue, but the
    proprietor said I was in luck, there was a streetside
    cobbler right down the street.
  6. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    My predicament must be a common one - the cobbler,
    with his two hangers-on or assistants, fixed me up
    right away with a loaner pair of flip-flops and told
    me to come back in an hour. I left both shoes with
    the understanding that they'd both get reinforced and

    A couple buddies joined me for a stroll through the
    city (not that interesting) in the search for a beer
    in the 90/90 heat. Failure, so we ducked into a 7-11
    for a round of Cokes. We appeared at the cobbler's,
    who charged me $4 for his hour's work. I gave him
    MYR20, a bit more than $5, and refused change, telling
    him to buy a Coke for his buds.

    The train back to KL was weird in a bunch of ways.
    First, the back of the station platform was very
    crowded, with the rest of the platform kind of
    empty. I led our group forward only to find some
    guy brandishing either a real handgun or a starter
    pistol facsimile good enough to fool my rather poor
    eyes; periodically he would shoot off a couple
    blanks, presumably when people got too close to
    him. I beetled off rapidly, seeking the comfort
    of the crowd for one of the few times in my life.
    Then, the scheduled train didn't come; instead,
    the outbound train stopped on its track and just
    sat there for a quarter hour, during which time the
    electronic timetable board flashed some nonsense,
    and some of the crowd got on, and some of us just
    stood there. At length I figured that this must be
    an extra back to town, so we got on, followed by
    the rest of the people on the platform, dubiously.
    Eventually it started lurching back the way it had
    come, relieving people a bit; full relaxation came
    when it turned out the lunatic was not on our car.
  7. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Dinner at the Hakka Restaurant downtown. I got there a bit
    late, having joined lili at the makeshift executive lounge
    for drinks and a snack, both pleasant but unmemorable,
    except that among the sweets were little squares of durian
    and rice cake, of which I am fond. I'd say that of maybe
    fifty petit-four size servings on the sideboard at one time
    two were this, and I'd always take one. The others were
    variations on western cakes with one plate of rainbow cakes
    and other rice things. There was also a fancy dessert in
    martini glasses, the daily whim of the chef - during my visit,
    they were I forget the first day, the second a very cute
    apricot juice in alginate experiment, and a standard tapioca
    bubble thing the third. On the regular buffet, sandwiches,
    Japanese selections, and savories ranging from little
    quichelike things to wings to meatballs, the usual.

    Anyway, I tore myself away from lili and the buffet and
    took the monorail, half a mile away through the train
    station, to the famed Hakka restaurant in the Golden
    Triangle, where most of the group were already assembled.

    Though I was half an hour late, the food hadn't arrived
    yet, so I was able to get an order in.

    We started with a semi-lovely dish of shrimp with glass
    noodles with lime and fish sauce. The shrimp were big and
    sweet and oceanic and lovely, but the noodles were a hair
    too soft for my taste and with too much lime and fish sauce.
    I see this as a starch, but the restaurant obviously cooks
    it with an eye to its being cut with white rice, which we
    didn't order any of.

    Kangkong belacan was the usual thing, also with lots of
    fish component, which meant that it too cried out for white
    rice - I had only a few strands of this.

    There came a big wall of cold blocks of tofu with fried
    shallots and other savory things. I accuse this guy across
    the table, Pete, of ordering this - he doesn't eat red meat
    and was the only person at table whom I would have imagined
    getting it. I made the bulk of my meal off it, and nobody
    else seems to have even touched it. Surprise, kids, it was
    very, very good.

    My request was the medium braised pork belly with preserved
    vegetable, which came out with onions instead of the veg,
    but it was excellent - something I've cooked before, but they
    did it perhaps better. This went over very well, and I got
    some shards and that was about it.

    Yangchow fried rice, not my favorite, and apparently not
    anyone else's, as much was left at the end. Very standard.

    Chicken hor fun was also standard, the noodles appropriately
    gloopy, the black soy based sauce something that every one
    of us has encountered a hundred (or a thousand?) times but
    good for that, sufficient chicken and not too many bean
    sprouts. Filled up the cracks.

    With beer sufficient to lubricate everyone, the price came to
    USD11 each - it was a relatively fancy restaurant.

    Well, of course there was plenty of sodium in this meal, so
    overnight I blew up like a balloon - one reason why I always
    get the bed closest to the bathroom, Lasix doing what it does.

    When I got back, lili was tucked in delicately in her bed,
    so I had to be extra quiet getting my e-mail, reading the
    BBSes, and so on.
  8. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Wake up, wake up, for morning is here! I just went through the
    motions at breakfast. The only new thing I tried at the buffet was
    beef bacon. It was like boiled but insufficiently boiled pastrami.

    I wandered about a bit, and then lili and I walked the whole
    kilometer or so to Little India, where we met the others at
    Restoran Nagas, Brickfields. This is a sort of cafeteria serving
    pretty decent south Indian food at a price that is somewhat
    agreeable in that at any place you go that is cheaper you run
    the risk of Sultan Ismail's revenge, or so I am told. For the
    neighborhood it's fairly high.

    I got a delicious curry of eggplant (brinjal) and a serving of
    mutton in wet curry, rice, and a green coconut, as you get more
    liquid than an 11 oz Coke, and the cost is about the same, and
    it tastes better, and you get to eat part of the container for
    dessert. One of our Singaporean colleagues groused that the price
    they were charging was higher than one costs back home! At some
    point I checked and found out he was right! They charged 4 or 5,
    either just shy of or just over USD1, whereas in Singapore the
    going rate is SGD1, which is well below USD1.

    upup&away next to me had mutton in dry curry, which he didn't like
    -`it's more muttony and is challenging to eat, being full of big
    shards of spices - bay leaves, curry leaves, lime leaves,
    toothpicks of cinnamon, cloves, other unidentifiable things;
    so I traded him the wet curry for it, as he liked that much
    better. Turns out not only did I get his, I got half of mine
    back; as he had biryani as well, he got full rapidly. Both
    curries were very good, comparable to Muthu's or Banana Leaf
    Appolo back in Singapore, at less than half the price.

    lili down the way got a chicken kebab, which (she didn't
    know) came with a chickpea yellow curry. Also rice and a
    garlic naan. As she is of small appetite, and I am her
    designated food partner, I got nearly yet another full lunch.
    The chicken was tenderer than the run of the mill, as it had
    been marinated in salted yogurt (whoops), and the yellow
    curry was tasty though not nearly spicy enough. I think this
    must be the gringo set meal or something.

    I don't know what the point is of ordering bread with these
    abundant meals. A lot was left behind. I tasted the garlic
    naan, which was moderately garlicked and thinner, therefore
    crisper and drier than I am accustomed to. I ended up eating
    more than I was comfortable with, being a waste not want not
    sort of guy. After my stuffing, there was still more left.

    Walked tuapekastar and lili back to the station and repaired
    to the hotel for a bit of a nap, which lasted until the free
    alcohol started at the lounge.

    Free alcohol (in the form of Tiger beers) is good. Oden
    is good. No durian dessert today, which wasn't good, so I
    had chicken wings instead. I wasn't hungry anyway, and the
    grapes were sour.

    We were supposed to meet at the Oversea Restaurant, and I
    thought of doing so, only I was full, and it was rather
    violently thunderstorming out, so I deputed Ted to convey
    my regrets while I sat there to closing time hoping for
    the appearance of durian desserts, which did not come.
  9. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    It was about time I started getting recognized by the staff at
    the Hilton, and so it was. Sort of late, as I was scheduled out
    of there to Ipoh noonish.

    Weekday breakfast was somewhat busier than weekend breakfast,
    plus we were somewhat later; instead of choosing our own table,
    we were escorted to one of the few unoccupied ones.

    On the weekend the juicer/smoothie station had been abandoned,
    but today it was going full force, with the result that orange
    juice was available by request only, the jugs out on the buffet
    being filled with various small-batch concoctions. I tried a
    starfruit-?papaya and a watermelon with something grassy. Neither
    was a particular winner.

    The usual food suspects, but one of the chicken curries had been
    replaced by lamb rendang, a dish I like very much. This was a
    pretty good rendition.

    I asked what kinds if bao they had. The guy in charge of the
    station said chicken or bean, so i asked for one of each. No
    problem with the chicken, he had a tray of them and popped one
    out for me. But the top tray had pink and white ones, so he
    pulled out a pink one, whose top fractured and yielded ...
    more chicken. Somewhat perturbed, the guy pulled open the
    top of a white one and found ... chicken. I said nice try
    and just had the one. It was pretty good, the meat, not very
    abundant, smothered in a lot of char siu sauce. Oh, Muslims
    and Jews, how I pity you. I used to believe the prevailing
    theory that the religious prohibition came from a public
    health issue, that being that pork spoiled quicker than other
    meats. But that's silly. First off, it doesn't, and second,
    if it did, where do chickens come into this picture - their
    flesh is as perishable as pigs'. Now I think it was instituted
    as a form of self-sacrifice. Pigmeat is most excellent, and
    lard is one of the great fats, and refraining from them is a
    sort of self-sacrifice, not to say self-flagellation.

    Back to the room to pack up and freshen up and then off to
    the station. I neglected to say that getting a train ticket
    is relatively involved. First you line up for a shot at what
    looks like an information booth, where you are asked about
    the details of your travel (where, when, how many), and after
    this the clerk gives you a number (just like the DMV, lili
    said); then you wait, thankfully not a huge amount of time,
    and your number is called with instructions to report to a
    window, where you would think the ticket is waiting. No,
    you get asked the same questions, and after answering
    satisfactorily, Ipoh, noon, two, the tickets are handed over
    in exchange for MYR50.

    The train to Ipoh leaves from Gate B, access to which is from
    the upstairs level. We got car A, which is the last one, seats
    10CD, which were on this trip forward-facing on the mountain
    side, which comes recommended for the views. This is true. The
    views are nice, not overwhelming, and the time went quickly.

    Why Ipoh? It's said that when the world wants great cheap
    food, it goes to Singapore (this is no longer true, this
    being now one of the wealthier places on earth, so the prices
    have jacked up to match); when Singaporeans want great cheap
    food, they go to Kuala Lumpur. And when KLeans want great
    cheap food, they go to Penang or Ipoh.

    A scrum at the station, taxis everywhere, people pushing to
    the front. I decided to go to the rear, where the crush was
    less. I found a tout, who flagged over his buddy, and we
    agreed on a fare of MYR10, the going rate being 4, but it
    was hot, and we just wanted to get into the hotel (one whole
    kilometer away) and its air conditioning. So we got in, and
    off we went on an only slightly circuitous route of maybe
    3 km. When we arrived, in 8 minutes, the taxi driver wouldn't
    accept 10 but wanted 25. I demurred, and he threw my bag
    into the trunk (lili later remarked that his virtuosity at
    this maneuver indicated that he was well practiced at it),
    whereupon I took a picture of his license plate, whereupon
    he tried to wrest the camera from me, whereupon I said,
    okay, 20, whereupon he (faux) angrily reopened the trunk,
    threw my bag to the ground, and took the 20. I laughed at
    him, which didn't seem to please him too much, and he sped
    off down the street, nearly hitting some cars parked in the
    median (normal parking place for this street).
  10. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    The Z Hotel is in one of the supposedly happening districts
    of town, with numerous bars and cafes nearby and Chinatown
    a few hundred meters away. It's new, clean, and quite
    attractive though not luxurious. No Hilton, but between a
    quarter and a third the price. Breakfast might be theoretically
    included, I'm not sure, but the breakfast area isn't finished
    yet, that's how new the place is.

    Checkin staff was pleasant but very slow - looked like right
    out of if not still in school.

    Our room was perfectly adequate by local standards. One
    thing - the power is controlled by an insert-your-card
    switch, which is very modern and actually reads the card,
    not letting you substitute another card. Also, if you have
    the door open and don't immediately insert the card, an
    alarm beeps at you very loudly. On the whole, fine for a
    couple days as a base of operations, not so much to hang
    out in (such as the Hilton had been). Quite comfy beds. One
    oddity, the bathroom, as with much of the hotel, was less
    than completed - the shower stall had no glass, for example,
    leading to water all over, making the toilet self-cleaning
    I suppose. The air conditioning was effective and up to the
    task, which allowed the bathroom to dry fairly quickly, so
    no complaints there.

    Bricks and Barrels gets a lot of publicity as a new hot spot
    in town, started by a couple of ambitious locals. It has also
    gotten some rave reviews from people whom I respect, plus it
    is a five-minute walk from the hotel.

    We were getting hungry again, plus it was happy hour, so we
    went there; it was sleepy and quiet, the fans humming in
    true Empire fashion (no air con), and there were a few other
    customers. It looked promising, especially the signboard
    offering 3 "perfect pint" glasses of Tiger for RM28, a
    pretty amazing price. So that's what I ordered. It turns out
    that at this establishment a perfect pint is 330 mL, or 11 oz.
    The beer was fine, and I later found out that the fine print,
    which I couldn't see without looking hard for it, specified
    the size of the "pints."

    lili looked at the wine list, which was not surprisingly
    pretty poor and offered less than stellar choices for 25
    and up. The friendly waitress pointed out that for happy
    hour an Australian Cabernet was on offer for RM15 a glass,
    so that's what she had. It wasn't worth it.

    On to the food. What was characterized as English roast pork
    really a pretty standard Chinese pork belly (good for me)
    seasoned with rosemary (the menu promised sage)(not my
    favorite). Truly excellent buttery mashed potatoes, quite
    good though slightly greasy and limp green beans, all with
    a side of peculiar but not bad-tasting brown gravy. This for
    about ten bucks.

    A pizza margherita (characterized as margarita) was way
    inauthentic. The very thin crust was somewhat underdone, so
    the slices drooped uglily when picked up. There was oddly
    no mozzarella and less oddly no sauce; the surface was
    abundantly covered with shaved pretty good-quality Parmesan
    and one artfully arranged cherry tomato per slice, alternating
    red and yellow. Basil leaves that were real, not any of the Asian
    varieties, a great surprise. lili was put off by the texture
    of the crust but found the flavors good.

    We spent about USD25 for the lot, including a second glass of
    bad wine, one of our more costly meals of the trip.
  11. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    The famed Hong Kong-style dim summery Foh San was closed the
    day we wanted to eat there, so we went to Ming Court across the
    way; some commentators maintain the places run neck and neck,
    others sing the praises of one or the other, and there's a
    third down the street that gets a few votes as well.

    The place is busy - Internet reports of how you get a table
    are completely accurate - when you arrive, all the tables are
    full, and you wait for a place (or in our case a deuce) to
    come open, and when a party leaves, you slide into their
    just-vacated spots. Which is what we did.

    The food is standard but of good quality and freshness, one
    of the advantages of a place that is constantly busy.

    Things that lili could eat -

    steamed pork ribs with ginger, which were excellent, having
    been cooked with abundant ginger, a splash of rice wine and
    soy, and a black bean or two - the problem was that the ribs
    had been hacked with a not-so-sharp cleaver, and there were
    bone fragments in places they shouldn't have been, so that
    put her off, and instead of eating the bulk of this dish,
    she had only a piece or two, making her main meal out of

    fried puffs with pork and douban jiang, which were frankly
    delicious, the salty savory meat filling smoothed out nicely
    by the rice dough crusts. She also liked the

    fried sesame puffs with yellow bean (I usually see them with
    red bean, which I marginally prefer), which she liked but
    after half of one claimed fullness, so I ate the rest.

    Things I eat but she wouldn't -

    har gow (shrimp dumplings) and siu mai (pork dumplings with
    ground shrimp) were of a good standard, the former stuffed with
    three smallish shrimp each, the latter, well, maybe a notch
    above Trader Joe's frozen, two notches because these were made
    fresh within a few hours;

    eggplant stuffed with unknown protein, pretty yummy, but I'd
    hoped the unknown protein would be shrimp, which it wasn't; and

    unknown protein by itself in 1-oz coin-shaped cakes; these turned
    out to be ground fish, rather nicely seasoned.

    Eight bucks for the two of us.

    There's a tourist brochure called Ipoh Heritage Trail, which
    takes you downtown to all the government and banking buildings,
    which, truth be told, are good, sometimes impressive even,
    examples of architecture during the Raj. Aside from the blazing
    sun and oppressive humidity, you'd almost think you were in the
    business district of an English city. I particularly wanted to
    check out the Old Odeon, an abandoned theater, near which there
    are supposed to be food stalls with amazing offerings at half
    the price of KL. Well, what we had read about wasn't quite what
    we found, a moldering old building with an alley a little bit
    south of it with some tents that were somewhat neglected-looking
    and, more importantly for lunchtime, closed. We resolved to
    return at night to see if that situation would be reversed, but
    we never did, not because of the fear of assault - it's supposed
    to be a very safe city - but for the fear of potholes, of which
    there are a substantial number.

    The most appealing thing around was Old Town White Coffee, right
    across the street from the tourist bureau (we stopped in there
    for a few minutes to cool off and justify the existence of a
    couple young attendants, who otherwise had nothing to do but
    play with their phones); this is the Starbuck's of Malaysia,
    and this is said to have been the first outlet, so coming here
    is like going to the Starbuck's in Pike Place Market, with the
    prices comparable (adjusting for local economics). I had a
    white coffee, which came really white, with lots of condensed
    milk in the Asian style. Later I found out that when you don't
    want dairy, you order "kopi-O," O standing for ohne or something
    I guess. lili got a hazelnut freezy, I believe that the US
    equivalent is Frappuccino. Both were delicious. So what's white
    coffee, really? It's normal green coffee beans that instead of
    being roasted are fried in margarine - a peculiarly Malay practice -,
    which results in a pleasantly greasy and slightly burnt-sugar aroma
    and taste.
  12. violist
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    The Ipoh Mural Art Trail is another tourist board effort. The
    famous young Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned
    to create a number of murals for the downtown area; he did a
    great job, incorporating the quirks and defects of the walls he
    was given into his art. I am sorry to report that in a few cases,
    these imperfections have overgrown his efforts, with the tropical
    climate further degrading the background with which he worked, but
    what has remained shows a great talent and a great imagination.
    Speaking of looniness on the Internet, one of the recurring cavils
    about these pieces is that they are primitive or amateurish compared
    to the famous ones in Georgetown. Guess what, snobbish guys - this
    is the same artist, and these were done after some of the Penang
    ones (Zaharevic is based in Penang, so there are younger ones as
    well there). Given a smallish budget, I figure Ipoh did a nice job
    here. Another recurring criticism is that they are not well kept
    up; I agree here, but given the heat and humidity and the probably
    transient nature of the funding, that's understandable.


    I'd heard a lot about the signature roast duck at Sun Yeong Wei
    and its more modern offshoot SYW so was eager to try it. As luck
    would have it, it's only 10 minutes from the hotel, right in
    Chinatown. It was fairly busy when we got there, but we scored
    a table out back away from the heaty outside.

    We got a combo plate of char siew, pretty much what you'd get
    anyplace (except here in Rhode Island, where I am writing from,
    where it's worse), nice mix of lean and fat, and roast pork,
    which was very salty but quite good otherwise, with great crispy
    skin - not so nice as that at Bricks and Barrels, but 40% less
    in price. A quarter of that famous roast duck was also very
    salty and also surprisingly full of the same medicinal herbs
    flavors as one found in the bak kut teh down in Klang. It wasn't
    my favorite, and I wonder about the multitudes who sing its
    praises to the skies. A bowl of plain rice was needed with this
    salty food; also drinks - lili had a Coke, and I had soybean
    beverage, a good source of both protein and flatulence.
  13. violist
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    Lou Wong, the famous beansprout chicken place, is closed between
    2:30 and 5, and that was when I happened to be there. There are
    no beansprouts in the chicken - it's your standard Hainan chicken
    rice with a side order of blanched sprouts that are supposed to
    be extra tender and juicy and most of all big. As I am not all
    that fascinated with bean sprouts, I wasn't heartbroken to see
    it shut, as the other famous chicken rice place is nearby - Ong
    Kee with two outlets, next door and diagonally across the street
    - and was open.

    There is spirited discussion among locals about the relative
    merits of the two. It seems that Lou Wong is inconsistent about
    the cooking of its chickens but offers those supposedly great
    sprouts; Ong Kee is more reliable with the main ingredients but
    cannot be relied on to be open during posted opening hours. All
    in all a wash. Well, it was open when I got there, so I picked up
    a lunch portion of Hainan chicken rice, which was of a good
    standard - rather like I'd make myself. Elevating the dish was
    the chopped mouse poop peppers provided. MYR 11. A double-size
    Tiger was 10, so I got a pretty good meal that would have sufficed
    for two if lili was into this kind of food) for five bucks.

    One annoyance was a beggar lady who kept coming around selling
    tickets for a lottery that no doubt didn't have a prize. She
    bugged customers and staff alike. I considered giving her a
    couple ringgit to stay away, but as they say that only encourages

    After this adventure, back at the hotel the key card didn't work.
    It took two interventions by the front desk to get us into the
  14. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    On departure day we got up late, the alarm clock having failed to
    function and the curtains doing their job extra well, so there was
    no time to go to someplace fancy for breakfast (I had in mind the
    famous Foh San), but along the way I'd noticed a neighborhoody
    dim summery with the intriguing name Chef Fatt, which looked
    respectable and busy but not crowded, so we decided to give that
    a try.

    For me I ordered an order of har gow, which were tasty enough but
    made with chopped shrimp in a very thick cornstarch substrate; all
    the rest of the things to share -

    fried rolls with cabbage, pork, and ham were something I'd not had
    before, quite tasty though heavy on the salt;

    taro balls with pork were the usual delicious things;

    garlic spare ribs tasted pretty good but were more detritus than
    rib, sad to say, so lili didn't eat much of the dish even after
    I dissected out the objectionable bits for her;

    char siu bao of a good standard, thank goodness, otherwise I'd
    have had a good meal and lili a bad one, which is no way to
    start the day.

    The prices were somewhat lower (not by much) than at the more
    famous place, but the main thing was we were in and out in
    a jiffy.

    The previous day, I'd taken a detour from our walking adventure
    and gone to the city bus station, where I'd booked us a ride to
    Cameron Highlands. The little old guy manning the booth gave us
    detailed instructions - this used to leave downtown, but now since
    the building of the fancy new out-of-town depot 16 km north of
    here you take the city bus (free with an onward ticket, otherwise
    2 ringgit and change) to the new station. So we had the hotel desk
    call us a taxi; the Chinese driver charged us 12, an only mild

    This system is actually pretty efficient, and the city bus, at
    least the one we got, is air-conditioned and lets one off directly
    above the intercity bus gates. We made our way to the checkin
    kiosk, where, lo and behold, our little old guy was waiting for us.
    Apparently he's the personnel for both offices, and why not, as
    he rides the bus between the two stations for free, relaxing or
    doing the accounts en route, whatever.

    The intercity to Tanah Rata takes 2 hours even and is a bargain
    at 18.50; it's a scenic ride on comfy air-conditioned equipment
    that, however, lacks a restroom, so there's a pee stop halfway.
    It let us off right in the middle of town, but Google got either
    the bus stop or the hospital (the other main landmark) on the
    wrong side of the road, and depending on where the hospital was
    perceived to be, one would go one way or the other on the main
    drag. I guessed wrong and ended up having to ask a cop, who gave
    us pretty good directions except at the end, when at the last
    left turn, the trail turned cold and we ended up at Father's Guest
    House, where the friendly front desk person cheerfully put us right
    and sold me a Tiger for 7 and a Minute Maid More Pulp for the lady
    for 3. As we were sitting there refreshing ourselves some kid working
    at the hotel practiced his English on us, which was kind of fun.

    It was only a quarter mile detour - the Arundina was actually
    almost within sight of where we'd stopped. It is a very pleasant
    facility, somewhere between the guest house it purports to be and
    the hotel that it disclaims. We had reserved a deluxe triple,
    with queen and single beds. The room was spare but spacious and
    very high-ceilinged; there was a nice little balcony that
    potentially unfortunately was easily accessible from the corridor
    (but to our knowledge was not during our stay). An adequate
    bathroom, though it turns out that in order to get hot water, you
    had to take the handheld and dangle it below the heating unit, for
    siphoning reasons, something that took the front desk clerk two
    tries to get us to understand.
  15. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    In order to have available an after-hours drink, we inquired about
    a wine store and were directed by the front desk to a place on the
    main street (run by Chinese of course) and got a dubious bottle
    of Malbec labelled Sta. Inez for RM74. It was actually pretty good,
    a little stemmy and green but drinkable. I suspect that if we'd
    sprung for the Pichon Lalande 2005 for 1350 we might have been
    drinking the same thing. The wine was somewhat improved the
    second night.

    We discovered that our place offers Carlsberg beers for 6,
    which was a pleasant refreshment in the afternoons.

    The Travellers Bar is said to be the only bar in town, and it was
    just down the hill from our place, so we gave it a visit. It's
    a rather sad and run down place, whose bartender gave every
    impression of being half in the bag with alcohol poisoning or
    perhaps opium use. lili ordered Jack and water with ice; I
    had what was purported to be Hennessy VSOP but was actually
    some generic distilled spirit that may have had a grape or
    two in its background. The Jack tasted sort of like Mekhong.
    The bartender had to go to the restaurant next door to find
    ice and water. Strange place. Maybe it's better at night.
    The drinks were 17 each.

    There was rumor of another bar at a hostel called Daniel's,
    so we went there - it looked pretty unpromising as well, but
    we were subsequently told that it opens late and is open late.
    Never made it there.

    To make up for our boozal profligacy, we dined at the hawker
    stalls down the way from Father's. A dinner of chicken satays,
    a lemongrass fried chicken thigh (cold), and a plate of mee
    goreng (Indonesian/Malay version of lo mein, this version
    having squid, shrimp, and scallops - obviously lili didn't
    partake), along with two Cokes, 14.80.

    Helped by the front desk, we hired a taxi for the next
    morning, MYR25 an hour, 3 hour minimum.

    Promptly at 10 this little Sikh guy pulled up in a car
    in semi-respectable condition.

    Our major aim was to check out the tea farms for which this
    region is known and to look at the views along the way.

    Incidentally, we got a bit of a lecture on the area's changes
    and the political issues that are gradually transforming the

    The Boh tea company is the most famous and I believe the
    original in the region. Boh, by the way, isn't a Malay word
    but an English acronym for Best of Highlands. It has four
    plantations, of which we visited the first, which is between
    Tanah Rata and Ringlet, relatively out of the way compared
    to the one everyone visits, which is near Mount Brinchang,
    up a bit north in the tourist area.

    This is reached by a road that starts out fairly respectable
    and ends up a bit of a track right near the factory. On both
    sides steep terraced tea fields of great evocativeness and
    beauty. At the end of the road, the plant itself with
    associated gift shop and canteen, both tiny. It is also
    possible to hike to the top of a hill overlooking the estate
    - well worthwhile and especially nice when we could watch
    the mists roll in and then down into the valleys.

    The factory tour was pretty perfunctory - I'd say 10 minutes
    of rapidfire facts and the smell of partially processed tea.
    It was noisy and rather hot, and I was grateful when we went
    back down into the tea shop, where lili got a couple of
    scones (nasty things, very stale, as though they were there
    mostly for show and had lived under their plastic dome for
    days and days) for the driver and herself - of course I paid
    - MYR8.70 each. Teas (hers hot black, mine tarik) were half
    that and twice as good. Our driver got his free.

    A leisurely drive back down and to the highway, where the
    Bharat tea plantation beckoned. This is an open-air tea shop
    and gift shop of the most commercial sort. The great views,
    best in the area, are the ones most often included in the
    tourist brochures and Websites. You also get to walk down
    unguided into the tea fields, but I decided not to, having
    been on farms before and not wanting to have to check yes
    on the US reentry form for "have you been on a farm or
    in close proximity with livestock."

    We were deposited back at Arundina right on time.
  16. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Two of the better Chinese restaurants in the area are within
    walking distance of the Arundina. One of them is Halal, the
    other is not. Guess which one we went to.

    It's called the May Flower and could be a neighborhood eatery
    in any of a hundred cities I've been in (or ten thousand that
    I've not seen). Round tables, grandpa alternately lording it
    over the next generation and horsing around with grandkids,
    the intermediate family members preparing vegetables or just
    sitting around. Soft drink cooler in the back.

    Black pepper venison sounded good, so I ordered that for me.
    Came with ginger, carrots, green peppers, red onions, black
    beans, a familiar preparation. The meat was very tender
    although I believe not tenderized - it was just the cornstarch
    that did this. I convinced lili to take a couple bites of it.
    It was, she admitted, good, not really distinctively deer
    meat, could have been flank steak.

    For her I got the famous roast pork, precooked loin meat
    stir-fried with garlic, Chinese celery, and scallions. Most
    of it was fine, but there were a few famously overcooked
    pieces that she gave me.

    One small rice came with, or maybe I paid a quarter for it;
    it was enough.

    A large Skol beer was 14, bringing the total to MYR35.50.


    We'd had the front desk call Kang Travel, the local agency,
    to reserve spots on the 0700 minibus to Georgetown, Penang
    for 35 a pop. The regular bus companies operate only to the
    new bus depot at the end of the bridge for the same price,
    which would necessitate a taxi ride adding 25 or 30 more,
    so I figured this was the way to go. We were told that the
    minibus stopped where the regular companies used to, at
    Komtar tower right in the middle of town, but for 10 more,
    we could get dropped off right at our hotel. We were
    admonished to be in front of the hotel right at 0645, as
    sometimes there are more stops to be made. The hotel is
    locked until 0800, so we'd have to sneak out the side door
    and out to the little parking lot.

    So the alarm rang at 0530, and we were out of there, packed
    and showered and everything, right on schedule, having
    finished the last mouthful of that wine for breakfast.

    0645 ... 0700 ... no vehicle. The morning clerk arrived
    early, so at 0715 I asked him to call for us, and just as
    he was dialing, the thing roared up at 0720. There was
    another couple to pick up as well, so we were on our way
    at 0730-ish. The driver was taciturn but not surly.

    There are some interesting reviews of this service on the
    Internet. Two issues - one, lack of promptness, which we
    experienced, though only mildly; two, reckless driving,
    which we did not. Yes, the guy often went 20 over the
    speed limit, but no, he didn't seem to be driving in a
    hazardous manner or to be doing anything out of the
    ordinary compared to the other traffic.

    As promised, he took us to Komtar, because that's where
    the other couple had wanted to go, but when we got there,
    they actually wanted to be someplace else, so after some
    discussion, the driver got on his phone and eventually
    went into a store to ask directions and eventually got
    them to their destination, not charging anything extra.

    Our destination was easier to get to, being on a main
    street, and he got us there expeditiously, also not
    charging anything extra. I gave him ten anyway, which
    he seemed not to have expected.
  17. violist
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    We were pretty early to the Chulia Mansion, which I fondly
    imagined would be a restored shophouse complex, but it was
    in fact a modern newish high-rise of maybe half a dozen
    stories. Check-in was easy, with a MYR100 cash deposit
    and the caveat that the room wouldn't be ready until the
    posted time of 3. We stored our bags with the front desk
    and wandered around the area, poking around the very little
    Little India and ending up at the Wonderfood museum, which
    was amusing but way too expensive - apparently some guy
    whose profession was the crafting of plastic food models
    for restaurants decided to make them as an art form,
    creating everything from little dioramas of street scenes
    to the world's largest sculpture of a cendol. It was tacky
    as anything but enjoyable. During the time we were there
    (weekday lunchtime) there were only a few other people there,
    so we were given our own dedicated tour guide, who made sure
    we gave the appropriate attention to each exhibit and touched
    only the ones that were meant to be touched.

    I waffle between thinking it was a unique experience, which
    it was, and that it was probably the worst rip in town, which
    it also was at 25 a head ($6).

    After which, as promised by the reviews on the Internet, we
    were hungry.

    The Junk Cafe - someone on the Internet says that the burger
    is the best in Asia, so how could we miss that, especially
    since it was only a couple doors down from our hotel. It's
    literally literally a roomful of junk, old street signs,
    broken musical instruments, bric a brac of all sorts. We
    were greeted and seated by a slightly wild-eyed young
    Frenchman who, he said, was travelling with his girlfriend,
    and he decided to plop down here for a few months while
    she went wherever girlfriends go. We got a cozy corner
    in the back with an old sofa, out of sight of the street,
    which I suppose was a good thing. Or they wanted to keep
    us out of sight, also probably a good thing.

    lili was interested in a Bourbon and water, and the fellow
    proudly announced that the house whisky was Chivas 12 year
    old, so that's what she got; to my taste buds it was more
    like that Mekhong 1 year old again. The price was right, I
    think 12 or 13. I had a beer.

    The much touted full of junk burger is advertised as being
    dressed with onions sauteed in olive oil with a splash of
    balsamic, "very sharp Cheddar," and four kinds of mushrooms.
    We decided to split one; it came as a maybe 6 oz burger, fairly
    plump, done medium (ordered as rare as possible, which the guy
    said was going to be medium rare), on a sturdy and very good
    bun, respectable fries on the side. The fellow said that the
    beef was ground fresh in house every morning, and I suppose
    that it really was. I certainly have not had a better burger in
    Asia, and it certainly was one of the best I've had this young
    year anywhere. Fries were unexceptional.

    Back to Chulia Mansion, where our room, on the first floor,
    was ready. It was pretty nice but a couple doors down from the
    hotel's cafe, which meant it was not the quietest room ever.

    The cafe is there mostly for breakfast, but there's apparently
    a lot of catering done out of the kitchen; furthermore, besides
    breakfast, other complimentary offerings include a beer or
    glass of wine a day, a kilo of laundry a day, plus free coffee,
    tea, and cookies and ice cream throughout the day (ice cream
    stored in a freezer unsensibly located on the adjoining balcony
    outside in the heat). Luckily, not too many people took
    advantage of these last when we were in the room at night.
  18. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

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    Report on the ice cream.
    There was one that was strange and yellow - I suggested it
    might have been egg flavor but without any egg; my taste buds
    did not discern any flavor; perhaps saffron without so much
    saffron in it?

    Ube (purple yam) was the usual, slightly yammy, mostly sour

    Tutti frutti was lurid swirls of artificial colors and probably
    flavors; it wasn't actually too bad, sort of between strawberry
    and bubble gum.

    There was a nod to western palates - a sweet cream with crumbles
    of chocolate cake, the best of the lot.

    Report on the wine, which you have to go to the rooftop bar
    to get.
    It is pretty mediocre, not to say bad. I'll just point out that
    we didn't use all our coupons. The red was just like bad red
    anyplace, except it wasn't cloying sweet and didn't taste like
    plastic. Also, it was about a 3 oz pour, which would have been
    tragic if it had tasted any better. The white, which I tried
    for experience's sake, was actually somewhat better, a not so
    eminent Cheninlike substance, fruity enough. Despite having a
    light chill on it when it was poured, it warmed to room temp
    by the time I got to the end of it five minutes later. It was
    truly hot and muggy out.

    Though the coupons had said beer or wine, the bartender would
    not give out beer (hence the white wine), so I paid for a bottle
    of Royal stout, a Carlsberg product, not bad, very dark and
    malty and said to be 8% alcohol. Recommended over most of what
    is available (Tiger or Carlsberg lager).
  19. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Breakfast here is a many splendored thing. Huge assortment,
    some of the things pretty good, most of a middling standard.
    I ate reasonably well off the Asian offerings; lili mostly
    off the western ones.

    There was a dim sum station. There was nothing Trader Joe
    couldn't have thought of, but the gesture was welcome (the
    food, too, pretty much). These were variously available
    during our stay -

    Siu mai were pretty edible, but the chicken filling was
    strangely Spamlike (I discover that sometimes they grind the
    meat too fine in an effort to disguise its identity perhaps,
    then mix it with a little too much starch - this is true at
    even dedicated dim summeries of the lesser sort).

    Shark fin seafood dumpling is something I've not seen on
    a buffet before, not because of the cost (there is actually
    no shark fin in it, but rather it's named because of the
    shape, by which it would more properly be called Portuguese
    man o' war dumpling, but that's not as appetizing) but
    because it's more laborious to make than regular shaped ones.

    Chicken char siu bun was as good as chicken char siu gets,
    which is not very. The bread was of a good standard.

    Roast chicken pastry was less Banquetlike than the usual but
    with not enough of the brownish filling. Went well with sriracha.

    Various small steamed baos were offered - lotus (yellow), red
    bean (red), and kaya (brown coconut jam filling, bread tinted
    green). They were decent examples, which means I liked them a lot.

    Juices were mango and green guava, the latter replaced later by
    pink guava. I believe orange is available on request, but we didn't.

    The usual semi-western stuff, which I left alone - fake bacon
    (turkey), chicken sausage, baked beans. Eggs on request - fried
    sunny side only (they apparently haven't figured out how to
    flip 'em), scrambled, boiled, poached, or oddly Benedict, which
    one review on the Internet cavilled about because the Hollandaise
    was too sour. Well, excuuuse me.

    Four kinds of cereal, which I didn't pay attention to except to
    note that the red-blood-cell-shape cocoa rice cereal was available.

    A rotating repertoire of noodles, of which I passed up udon and
    something else but tried the mee goreng, standard and tasty, and
    a supposedly Italian-style spaghetti with tomato sauce, which
    was nonstandard and strange, the spaghetti having suffered from
    steamtableitis, the sauce seemingly made from tomato paste and
    Maggi or soy sauce, nothing else.

    Congee with the usual garnishes; not being that fond of the dish
    I passed.

    Roti canai with chicken potato curry or vegetable curry with
    lentils - sort of hard staleish bread but pretty good curry.
    There was also a darker colored and much deeper flavored chicken
    curry with coconut rice one day next to the noodles.

    Fruit: watermelon, papaya, banana, all fresh and good. I think
    one of the days there was also pineapple and regular apple.

    Nyonya desserts, rice-flour based, in many shapes and colors, all
    tasted pretty much the same: I plowed through maybe 10 one day and
    2 different-looking ones the next to make this determination.

    Bread pudding - dryish, not enough custard, dominant flavor of
    nutmeg; as with other western buffet items I've encountered at
    other eastern buffets, this seemed to have been cooked by someone
    who had read about the dish but never tasted it nor seen a recipe.

    Vegetable pizza - neither of us had the balls to try this.

    Of course, ice cream, which many people were seen heading outside
    to get.
  20. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

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    Local attractions we visited.

    The Esplanade is not so grand as its name. You walk along the
    seawall and look out at the water; on the other side of the wall
    is a rocky beach with just a little sandy spot.

    At the end of the Esplanade, the World War I memorial is a kind of
    grand (in the context of the city) Edwardian monument, rather nice
    to look at but - as with many structures in this part of town -,
    reminding one of the long British colonial history. After WWII,
    they couldn't afford to build another memorial, so this one serves
    that purpose as well.

    Down the way is Fort Cornwallis (yes, it's named after That
    Cornwallis). It's your pretty standard fort, semi-restored, rival
    to Wonderfood as greatest rip in town - MYR20, the tourist rate,
    double the resident rate, which is high enough. For that price,
    you get to wander the fortifications, get a closer look at
    the lighthouse at the northeast corner of the property, and
    catch a promotional movie or two in the air conditioned
    theater. We found a custodian who wanted to practice his
    English on us, which was fun for a while, except that he
    kept pressing us to let him take our pictures posing with
    this or that artifact and giving advice about what to see
    on the island. At least he was proud of his hometown and
    enthusiastic about living there.

    By contrast, the State Museum may be the greatest bargain in
    town at MYR1. I've been there three times - the first time,
    to learn about the history of Penang, its ethnic and cultural
    makeup, and the layout of the city; the second time because
    the ground floor has excellent air conditioning; this was the
    third. lili seems to have enjoyed it not solely because of
    the air conditioning.

    Little India. It's very Indian.

    Local attractions we didn't visit.
    Batu Ferrenghi. Penang Hill.
  21. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    The most famous old school Chinese restaurant in town, Tek Sen,
    is easy walking distance, so we walked. We were lucky to get
    seated right away - within minutes the place was full, and by
    the time we left, there was a line.

    Food was cheapish, about $4 a plate, so we got three, slightly
    too much food (as usual, one small rice, which was enough), but
    it was good enough to polish off every scrap without trying.
    Almost good enough to return to.

    Braised eggplant with ginger, garlic, scallions, ground pork,
    and a few thin slices of chile was delicious, not earth-moving,
    but I could easily have had a double order of this for my meal.

    There was a deep-fried tofu that I'd heard about, sauteed with
    lemon grass, scallions, fish sauce, and some other things I
    couldn't figure out, also quite good and gave me enough protein
    that I could cede most of the last dish to lili.

    Braised pork with yam (actually I think taro) - I thought this
    the least of the three, also the scantiest. A little too salty
    and a little too sweet - excessive use of various soy sauces;
    I suppose if we'd had more rice this would have balanced out
    a bit better. Not enough pork - I got only two morsels but
    ate most of the starch, which had soaked up some of the salty
    juice. If I had it to do over, I would have ordered a different
    pork dish.

    Tajuddin Hussain is said to have the best nasi kandar in town.
    There's some debate about whether you should take your curries
    and mix them up with the rice, all the juices flowing together,
    in the local style, or keep everything separate, as I did.

    I ordered a mutton curry mild, because of lili, but when she
    said she wasn't going to eat any anyway, I changed the order
    (by shouting to the waiter, no, spicy, spicy) to the famous
    rose mutton, the normal creamy korma-like curry flavored and
    colored with abundant hot pepper. This was almost as nice as
    the reports would have it, about as hot as I'd make for myself.

    An eggplant and potato curry in a yellow sauce was fine as well.
    We were served a piece of eggplant with the stem; I'd forgotten
    that the stem was edible. This one, however, was a bit tough.

    The source of my disappointment - white rice was dry and
    flavorless and vegetable biryani, lili's choice, almost as
    much so.

    Teh-o was 1.20, 0.20 extra for ice, and Coke was 2. The bill
    came to 14.50.


    Chulia Court is a well regarded hotel-bar-eatery with a lot
    of standard cocktails on threefer sale at happy hour. lili,
    under the impression that one had to get all the same thing,
    ordered us caipirinhas while I was in the bathroom. These
    were big, served in a highball glass over ice not too watered
    down. Nothing on the menu particularly appealed to either of
    us, so we went back to Junk Cafe for another iteration of
    the full of junk burger, which was as good as the first time.

    When we returned to the hotel, the front desk tried to sell
    us on the event of the day, a celebration of hawker culture
    up at the rooftop bar. Even the lure of free drink coupons
    was not enough to get us to go.
  22. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

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    We ordered a taxi for 50 through the hotel; it came right
    on time, and though it was the Thaippusam holiday, the
    anticipated traffic did not materialize, and we were at the
    airport in a jiffy. for some reason the guy had put the meter
    on; when we pulled up at the curb, it read 48 and change. I
    don't know what that was all about. I gave the guy a tip anyhow.

    Kiosk check-in mostly didn't work. lili couldn't get her
    boarding pass, and though I had done online check-in, the
    machine issued only my first and refused to give me my
    onward one, so we had to go to the counter anyway, where
    things got sorted out reasonably quickly.

    Security was quick and apparently thorough. The Golden Lounge
    is right there after the checkpoint, beckoning.


    An assortment of western-style pastries and sandwiches,
    fresh fruit - pineapple, papaya, honeydew, and watermelon;
    nasi lemak and all the garnishes, squid in chili sauce;
    chicken in sambal. Again, I can't speak for the western
    food, but the native stuff was decent. I washed my meal
    down with A&W sarsaparilla.

    MH1145 PEN KUL 1240 1340 738 20AC

    We had the row to ourselves on this moderately full flight
    which took a few minutes less than scheduled.

    A light lunch was served; it must have been okay, but I
    forget what it was.
  23. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

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    I'd got this nifty set of flights for not very much expense -

    TG 418 KUL BKK 2100 2205 788 11A
    TG 600 BKK HKG 0800 1145 388 1A

    This would have involved a couple hours and change in the first
    row of the 787 and a couple more hours in the first row of the
    380. But my onward got pushed forward an hour, making an
    untenable connection, so I got a cheap nonstop with a big layover
    so I could hang out with lili for a few hours.

    The Golden Lounge Satellite is supposed to be the flagship of
    the line: it's huge, offers decent food and drink, and a pay-in
    spa for those with long connections. Beats any US lounge cold.

    The staff weren't going to let lili in with her row 42 seat (JAL
    lets you check in 72 hrs ahead, and she didn't know that, so by
    the time T-24 rolled around, there was only one non-middle seat
    left on the whole aircraft, off in the wayback) despite her
    Emerald status. They let me in, though, with my somewhat less
    exalted status and Malaysia ticket, and allowed her to come in
    as my guest. Strange.

    There were ample food offerings: great lentil soup, very good
    chicken curry, and decent chicken biryani.

    The western meal on offer was some kind of fish in cream
    sauce, which I decided not to try, being suspicious of
    fish in cream sauce on steam tables.

    There was also spaghetti and tomato sauce, which I was
    tempted to taste just to give a report, but I refrained.

    Carlsberg was the beer on offer, which though okay got
    tiring after a while, so I switched to Evervess ginger ale,
    perhaps the blandest I've ever had. I'd hoped for something
    interesting, but one doesn't always get what one hopes for.

    The red wine was tolerable, the sip I had of it anyway.

    Presently we got bored, and as my flight was departing from
    the main terminal in an hour and change, we decided to try
    the regional lounge. It turns out this is more attractive
    in every way, cozier and more friendly; it also had the
    laksa bar (featured in the inflight magazine) in plain sight.

    All the amenities of the other lounge; in general I'd prefer
    it and was sad to say goodbye to it and to lili.

    MH 78 KUL HKG 1925 2300 738 7F

    I presented myself at security a few minutes before
    scheduled closing time and then sat for half another hour
    in the departure lounge while the plane was readied for us.

    We took off half an hour late. I was glad to have booked
    my room at the Regal Airport Hotel rather than someplace
    I'd have to be transported to.

    The meal on this flight: a fish thing or chicken rice. What
    could be bad? Okay, the rice was pebbles (insufficiently
    reheated), the chicken, not bad in itself, the meat of a
    biggish thigh, had been seasoned with ginger and chile (also
    not bad) and sugar, it seemed in the place of salt, not good.
    Steamed lotus root and green beans, also no salt. An appetizer
    of chickpea vinaigrette with bell peppers and chopped wilted
    greens; dessert a pineapple blueberry shortcake, very dry.

    I had a row to myself - there were several such available. We
    didn't make up any time in flight, so we got to our bus gate
    almost half an hour late. No worries, the line at immigration
    was fairly short, and it's a quick walk to the Regal, of which I
    have fond memories. Counting a 5-minute delay going upstairs to
    try to collect my onward boarding passes, the friendly and speedy
    checkin meant I was from gate to bed in under half an hour.

    It was what looked like a nice renovated triple room, and I
    gratefully collapsed into the bigger bed (normally I sleep in
    the smaller one in settings of this sort, but I was tired and
    wanted to stretch out) and had a good snooze.

    In the cold light of morning a few odd imperfections turned up -
    the bed linens had been imperfectly washed if at all, and the
    carpeting had stains and a big rip that had been halfheartedly
    repaired. Not so big of a deal, but the noisy plumbing in the
    nearby rooms woke me up earlier than I had hoped.

    Whence I discovered that the wireless didn't work, and this
    newer box of mine doesn't have an Ethernet port. I decided to
    take my shower and hustle back to the airport post haste.
    UA 862 HKG SFO 1220 0815 744 15K was 9J

    I went to the desk to try to negotiate an upstairs berth, and
    the agent said to have a seat and I'd be called. After about
    10 minutes I was summoned to receive the information that the
    upper deck had checked in full, so please take my original seat,
    where I was settling in when I heard a kerfuffle nearby -
    turns out the guy in 9K had expected his friend to be next
    to him, but the friend had been assigned 15K. The flight
    attendant refused to touch tis situation, but of course I
    offered to switch, it being obvious that the path of least
    resistance had been followed, requiring one boarding pass
    reissue instead of two and so here I ended up, where I'd
    intended to be in the first place.

    My seatmate was a youngish Chinese-American woman who had
    been off on business and who was hankering to get back home
    to her family. Cursory friendly conversation.

    We took off a little late, but it was promised that owing to
    favorable winds we'd land early anyway.

    Very solicitous service was offered by a senior crew including
    one Dutch or Belgian woman who was exemplary.

    We were given ramekins of good-tasting but very soft cashew
    halves with the occasional almond. Anyhow, as the nuts cooled
    off and dried up, they became nutlike again, a relief.

    More of that Ch. Fontenelle stuff, which isn't that bad after
    all. You should have seen me dive to save it during a sudden
    wave of turbulence.

    There were numerous interesting things on Channel 9, which
    was given on request, including stuff that might well not have
    been listened to, such as (as reported by a Dragonair pilot)
    that some ground crew person got hit by a piece of equipment
    and needed medical attention and, as we were approaching Japan,
    "[Call sign Sounded like Sumo] 73 is having issues with one of
    our personnel and will have to return to [unintelligible] for
    a crew swap," which raised tantalizing questions.

    A decent meal.

    Starter of one large shrimp and one large scallop, fresh and
    pretty good, the scallop somewhat sweeter than what I am
    accustomed to getting in these degraded days, sided by a
    citrus mayonnaise.

    The salad had pretty fresh greens, a couple orange segments,
    a mushy cherry tomato, and a half sundried one, with Thousand
    Islands or an incredibly sweet citrus vinaigrette with no
    citrus and little vinegar.

    Mains included a beef tenderloin, a vegetarian noodle dish,
    and cod in miso-mustard sauce (ugh). My seatmate and I both
    chose "three cup chicken, jade fried rice, broccoli, carrot
    and bamboo tips." Pretty good food, though this was a regular
    chicken stew (meat of two thighs, quite generous) in a soy and
    hoisin-based gravy, rather than a real sanbeiji, which has a
    strong wine component and is both savory and sweet (this was
    mostly sweet). The rice that came was plain white, and the
    vegetables overcooked but decent, the best being the bamboo
    shoots, exemplary, the least good the carrots, cut into pretty
    plum flower shapes, but one of which was beginning to rot and
    was half brown.

    A cheese course got the lack of attention it deserved; the
    Port was Ferreira 2011, but as the attentive attendant had
    just poured me my fourth refill of the Fontenelle, I decided
    to pass on it.

    Ice cream sundaes for afters.

    When Channel 9 was turned off, I did as well, helped by all
    that wine. I didn't even have time for my Courvoisier, falling
    immediately into Five hours of pleasant snooze.

    Channel 9 returned after the transoceanic slog.
  24. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

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    On the one day when I wouldn't have minded a delay, we
    ended up half an hour early, and C&I took only a few
    minutes, even though I got the familiar X (I clicked on yes
    for fruits, vegetables, and plants, as I had brought back
    some tea).

    I hear there was a blizzard on the east coast. I had
    UA 309 SFO IAD 1042 1851 739
    but obviously that wasn't going to happen. The replacement
    flights were
    UA2034 SFO ORD 1805 0015 738 8A and
    UA1012 ORD BOS 0737 1053 738 4F

    The first flight fell off the systemwide upgrade list, and
    I contemplated screaming about it but decided to let some
    poor Platinum get an upgrade for a change. Anyway, I'm
    supposed to get a free snack and alcoholic beverage with
    my fancy white card.

    There were a lot of 1Ks on this plane, and the cabin crew
    were as solicitous as they could be, actually pushing us
    to order from the snack menu - the beef stew in a bread
    bowl being highly recommended. I just got a Courvoisier.

    Again we arrived early, but there still didn't seem to
    be time to enjoy a nice hotel room, so I camped out in
    the airport. Soon I found a small knot of Chinese people
    around, apparently believing in safety in numbers.

    I used a second certificate to do the last two-hour flight,
    as it was going to expire anyway. Good thing I did - the
    plane was totally packed.

    Breakfast was eggs scrambled with cheese with lots of
    nicely done asparagus and what appeared to me to be
    little button mushrooms but turned out to be slices of
    sausage. The usual fruit appetizer. Cinnamon roll or
    croissant. Pretty satisfactory. Being really tired, I
    had a couple Cokes but fell asleep anyway. We landed
    quite a bit early. I went straight to the club and was
    greeted by Lynne, whom I answered incoherently.

    It took me a couple days to get back to Washington,
    which was fine with me.

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