Saturday, June 30, 2012

An Hindu Engagement

Nikki, Eric and I with the Bride and Groom
Eric, Nikki and I were invited by Mano, our Amah, to her daughter Parame's Engagement ceremony.  This was a huge honor for all of us, as we were the only Westerns at the event.  Mano graciously purchased our Sari's and took us to Little India for fittings. 

All dressed and ready to go. Bindis, Bangles and Saris.
We arrived at the Hindu temple a little past sunset to a rainbow of different color saris, chanting and blessings for the new couple. The three of us were greeted by Mano's family and were invited to sit on the floor near the Hindu priest to witness the ceremony.
The parents of the bride and groom saying prayers and blessings for the new couple
Offerings for a happy marriage
Here come's Parame to accept her malas and bangles.  She is escorted by Mano's sisters

The Bride and Groom receiving blessings and prayers from the Hindu Priest
The exchanging of rings to finalize the engagement
Nikki & I with Mano
  After the engagement was complete, a traditional vegetarian meal was served.  Traditionally, meals are eaten with the right hand and we joined in.

Overall, this was an amazing night!  We all felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for being welcomed with open arms to this sacred event.  The wedding will take place before the end of the year and I'm excited to wear a Sari again.  I am convinced that Indian women understand fashion because everyone looks amazing in a Sari, no matter what shape or size you are.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Eric's Dirty Thirty

On June 21st, Eric entered his next decade and turned 30!  To celebrate this monumental birthday, we invited our Penang friends to join us for Happy Hour at Euro Deli and dinner at Tree Monkey. 
Our friends at Euro Deli celebrating over a beer
Eric had a multicultural birthday celebration as we had friends from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Mexico and the US present to welcome him to his 30s.  It was a great group of people -- some have known Eric for 10 years (I wonder who?) and a few that have known Eric for only 4 days.  Eric's birthday was a great reminder of what life as an expat is meet awesome people from all over the world that are fun and willing to celebrate almost every occasion, as long as beer is involved.
Dinner at Tree Monkey
As Eric transitioned into his 30s I wanted him to remember that he is never too old for toys.
Remote controlled helicopter.....
And a new lens for his camera!

We stretched Eric's birthday into the weekend making a quick trip to Kuala Lumpur where the goals were to have good beer at eat pork. We hit up our favorite Italian restaurant and feasted on fresh pasta and traditional pizza, before making our way to Eric's favorite beer bar, Taps.  Interestingly enough, the waitress at Taps remembered us from our visit in April and asked us where we had been.  Guess we made a memorable impression back then.  On this visit, Taps was offering Free Flow Beer after 11 pm, which means it was free all you can drink delicious Stout beer from 11pm onwards.  I think we drank our fair share! Apart from eating and drinking, we took in some of KL's sites, including the Petronas Towers and the amazing Islamic Arts Museum. 
Steve joined us for our adventure.  The three of us in front of the Petronas Towers
Traditional Islamic architecture
Eric's favorite painting from the museum. 

Ornate work in the ceiling domes

All in all an excellent weekend and a great Birthday for Eric!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The King of Fruits

Over the weekend Eric and I joined our friends Paulette and Jeff on an epic Penang adventure. Our mission was to try Durian, the king of fruits.  For most westerners, durian is a stinky, spiny tropical fruit that smells up elevators and torments small children and pregnant women.  Locals are crazy for durian and there is a month long festival to celebrate the king of fruits.  Durian is an acquired taste for most westerners.  Eric and I are convinced that whether or not you enjoy durian is genetic.  We have yet to meet an expat that openly enjoys eating it.

Durian is an attack on the senses.  The smell is pungent and can be best described as a rotting mango that has been left in the sun for days.  The smell lingers long after the fruit is gone and is noticeable to anyone who has ever come in contact with it.  When we first arrived, 11 months ago, the smell was nauseating.  I could hardly ride the elevator without dry heaving if someone had brought a durian home. Now, the smell doesn't bother us and we find it to be rather sweet and not as repulsive. 
The outside of this fruit is very spiny and could cause some damage if it fell out of a tree and hit you in the head.  It is also deceptively heavy.  Our small durian weighed at least 1kg. 
The inside of the fruit is a complete juxtaposition to the outside, soft gooey flesh that is swaddled and protected by the hard outside shell. 
The texture of the fruit is sticky and gooey, while being meaty and chewy.  It's pretty gross.
Not only is the texture bad the taste is worse. Just thinking about how to describe the taste is making my stomach sour and my toes curl.  We've spent the last few days trying to describe the taste and here are a few of our favorites: 
Durian Tastes Like
Caca or another 4 letter word
Rotten fermented onions
A rotten peach that was eaten out of a sweaty armpit

Jeff was the champion eater at our table, managing to eat his entire piece of durian.  Eric took one bite and almost puked.  Paulette swallowed her bite and was finished.  I gave in after two bites.  All in all, durian may be the worst thing we have ever eaten. 

To wash down our durian and get the awful taste out of our mouths, we sampled the Queen of fruits, the mangosteen.  We love mangosteens, they are sweet and delicious and are the complete opposite of durian.  Yummy!
The Queen of fruits
We capped off our fruit exploration with some rambutans, another fleshy and sweet fruit that was so much better then the king.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Ok, so we have a travel list. It's a long list of all of the places we want to visit while we are in SE Asia.  There are the places that "we must" visit and others that we will visit if we have time and money.  At this rate, our list is a bit ambitious but we are making a large dent in it.  Last weekend, Eric had (another) long weekend and we decided that a visit to Bangkok was in order.  Bangkok is one of a few direct flights from Penang and perfect for a long weekend visit.  A short hour and a half flight and we were in one of SE Asia's biggest cities.  Perfect.

We were warned by friends that traffic in Bangkok is unbelievable and to avoid getting into any automobile.  Luckily, the city has done a fantastic job with their public transportation system and getting around is a breeze, not to mentioned air conditioned, cheap and fast! We managed to move around the city on the Metro, Sky Train and Water Taxis without any problems and only took one taxi (which we ended up getting out of and walking to our destination because it was faster).

Our two big goals for our trip were visiting Temples and Shopping.  We visited Wat Pho and the largest Reclining Buddha in the world.  This was one of our biggest draws to Bangkok after seeing Todd English's visit to this temple on PBS.  It was awesome and less touristy then other temples we had been to.  

We took a water Taxi across the river to Wat Arun, a stunning pagoda where you are able to climb the steps of the very intricate and detailed temple. 
Young Monks joined us on our river taxi to Wat Arun
Beautiful Wat Arun
The steep steps to the top
After experiencing Bangkok's temple scene and hot temps, we settled in for some good Chang beer and fried rice.  Eric made friends with our waitress...
We spent an entire day shopping.  Bangkok is known for it's markets and malls and let me just say, they do not disappoint.  While, shopping is not our "thing" we did check out the famous Chatuchak Markets and Siam Paragon Mall.  We left with a few finds but nothing overwhelming.  We had a nice lunch at the Paragon Mall and were witness to a young couple's proposal and engagement.  It was very sweet.  We also ventured to the famous backpacker haven, Koh San Road, where we determined that we are officially old.  We had an early dinner and took a taxi back to our hotel on the river. 

Here are a few more Bangkok pictures:

This is what happens when you are hungry and over templed

If you look close enough you will see that I am only smiling to hide my heat rash
Thai engineering at it's best.  I wonder how many homes and business this powers...

An American engineer pondering all of the code violations...
When cars die, their engines' become boat motors...
Final Thoughts: I'm glad we visited Bangkok and can say that we have been there.  It's a big Asian city that is modernizing while holding on to and honoring the old ways of life.  I don't think we will go back to visit but it's a worthy stop if you are in SE Asia.  I will say that Bangkok during the day is much much different than Bangkok at night.  The sex trade and oppression of women is very much alive and well in Bangkok.  Please keep that in mind when traveling here.  As a social worker, the exploitation is overt and a hard pill to swallow; but it's life and the truth of thousands of women here. All in all a good weekend, a good city with excellent transportation, people and food!