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Friday, February 16, 2018

Happy CNY 2018!

Happy CNY of the Dog! This year, I wasn't really in the mood to bake, and yet I did force myself to make something .... so due to my half-hearted efforts, the cookies did not turn out as nice.


My bakes

On the top was green tea marble cookies. I think the shade of the green section of the cookie was too light, and the cookie was generally overbaked. I'd reduce some more sugar as I found it too sweet. I used this recipe here

Below that was the Parmesan Cheese Cookie - which I quite liked. I used this recipe, and was generally quite happy with the texture of the dough and also how it turned out after baking. Quite yum and would make this again. 

I used this recipe to make the nastar pineapple rolls, which I'd used for the past 2 years. This year, I ran out of condensed milk and substituted it with sugar. I don't know whether that affected the dough or not, but I found that this year, the dough seemed softer than ever ... and it was difficult to manage. As a result, the shape of the pineapple rolls were not so nice, and the pastry was crumbly after the bake. 

In fact it was so difficult to manage that I gave up halfway through. To the remaining dough, I added some chopped cranberries, mini chocolate chips and chopped hazelnuts, shaped them into balls and baked them ... heh ... tasted much like shortbread. :)) 

Snacks

The other thing I liked was the baked peanuts with brown sugar. Just sprinkle brown sugar on the peanuts and bake them over low temperature till browned ... sweet and crunchy and yum. :)) 

My aunts came over for dinner on CNY eve ... and well, they were looking forward to my "special" dishes. Heh. But there were none. I'd only bought the satay and made the durian cheesecake.

 Our reunion dinner spread ... all homecooked except for the satay which I'd bought ... 

My favourite dishes this year were the steamed garoupa and the garlic scapes stirfry. My durian cheesecake also did not turn out as well this year .... I did not follow the exact measurements and did not put in enough gelatin .... so cheese layer was too soft to handle as well. 

Pretty quiet meal for us .... pretty quiet day today as well. Looking forward to playing with my nephew tomorrow evening, when they come home. :)) 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A House Not A Home

I'm a home owner!

My living room

View from my  living room balcony

I bought an apartment at the end of 2014. I became interested in 2 apartment projects by this particular developer. But by the time I made an enquiry, the units had been sold out. I was ecstatic when I was told that another project would be launched, so I registered my interest with them.

They gave me a call prior to the launching of this new project. So the following day, I went to the developer's office very early - way before it opened its doors. I anticipated a queue at the office, as it was the case with its prior projects. However, I was surprised to find that all was quiet.

I waited for a while, and then came a middle-aged man, Mr. W. We got chatting and discovered that we were both interested in the same project. Mr. W said he was buying the apartment for his daughter. He'd gotten the brochure earlier, and so the both of us stood outside the office, discussing which unit we would potentially buy - the size to buy and the prices offered.

I was debating whether to buy the smallest unit or potentially a larger one. Looking at the prices, I thought the larger units were all overpriced. Incidentally, Mr. W and I both aimed at the same unit on the same block. Of course, he managed to book it first, and I had to settle for the unit above his. Heh. We'd become neighbours.

I'd gone to the office without any preparation at all. No cheque book. No cash. So the lady insisted that I had to pay a downpayment of 5% to book my unit. No payment, no booking. She couldn't even reserve the unit for me while I go get a cheque for it. An hour was what I asked for but she refused me. What a bitch she was. So in the end, what I did was to charge 2.5% to my credit card. Then, I went home to get a cheque for another 2.5% of the downpayment and drove immediately to the developer's office to pay. That was RM15,700 downpayment for a 861 square foot 2+1 room apartment with a garden view, on the second floor.

Paper work ensued in the next few months .... my sales and purchase agreement, and my loan was done without a hitch. I forgot about the existence of the apartment until I got periodical statements from the developer and the bank about financial matters. I'd never gone to see the site when it was building. I'd never visited my unit when it was under construction. All I did was start paying for my housing loan some time last year.

Before I knew it, 3 years had passed ... and last month I was contacted about handover. I was in Sri Lanka at that time ... and so I waited till the beginning of this month to collect my keys. When I first unlocked the doors to the apartment .... hmn ... it was smaller than I expected, but the workmanship was better than I thought. Heh. I'd actually expected the worst after seeing the very poor workmanship of my friend's house at Samarahan.

Now, I have another burden. To furnish the apartment! I'd gotten it small because I thought it would be sufficient for me. I also hated cleaning, so the smaller the better. Plus, I did not want to spend so much on furnishing the apartment - so I thought if it were smaller, I could spend less on furniture and stuff. In the long run, I also thought I could save on the management fees - the bigger the apartment, the more you have to pay!

Over all, I'm quite happy with the size of the bedroom and the living room. I did find the kitchen and the yard too small. I'm now looking for inspiration for some renovation work, like how to maximise space, and how to make my tiny kitchen bigger and more functional. Hmn .... it will take me probably more than a few months before I start shopping for contractors, fittings, appliances and etc.

I'd visited my house a few times now. I'd met my neighbour Mr. W again. I'd visited his unit - he'd furnished it with simple furniture and had rented out his unit. Last I went, there was already someone staying there. I also met my neighbours opposite my unit. They seemed a friendly couple too.

Hmn ... I do not have a conclusive plan yet, but I'd probably not stay at the apartment ... I'd rather stay with my folks. Maybe a weekend home? Hmn ... really not sure.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Laos : Day 10 : Walking Around Luang Prabang & Saffron Coffee

Today, I walked around Luang Prabang on my own.

My route

I started from my hotel, and I walked along Kitsalat Road. I went to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Museum, but it being Monday, the museum was closed. Too bad. I made a turn into Kingkitsarath Road, and found D & T Supermarket here. I went in and surveyed the prices of some things that I could possibly buy - like the Dao 3 in 1 coffee and Lao candy. 

Walking along Kingkitsarah Road, I passed by many quaint hotels, backpackers and cafes ... and before long, I was walking along Nam Khan River.  

The Bamboo Bridge along Nam Khan River

The Bamboo Bridge is not a permanent edifice. It is built during the dry season and has to be removed during the rainy season, when the water level is too high and the current is too strong. To access the bridge, one has to pay LAK5,000. I did not go on the bridge. 

I walked further down the road .... 

Where Nam Khan meets Mekong River
There's another bamboo bridge here at the mouth of Nam Khan ....

There's a nice shady park and a cafe here .... and one could laze around to watch the lazy river flow. I walked further on along Mekong River. I walked past Vat Xieng Thong, past many more cafes, hotels, guesthouses. In one of the alleys, I found Vat Nong Sikhounmuang ... 

The temple looked pretty quiet around mid-morning ...

Walking on further .... I found Saffron Coffee. This coffee joint was recommended by my tour leader, and so I really wanted to try their coffee. 




I ordered a small cup of latte .... 



The coffee was very good. I sipped it slowly, spending at least 2 hours at this coffee shop. I did walk around town again, after my coffee.

After my coffee, I walked pretty much aimlessly at the main street - Sakkaline Road - and only realised that there were so many temples towards the end of street. I went into some and took a few shots of the temples. I also went to the Ock Pop Tok shop, where I could see many hand-woven textiles and crafts on sale. Later on, I went back to the hotel to rest.

My friends BW and CC had signed up for a cooking class at a restaurant called Tamarind.

Koy: minced meat and herb salad 
BW made this at the cooking class. It had lots of ingredients, among which were minced beef, garlic, shallots, coriander leaves, lemongrass, mint, dill, chilli and lots more ingredients.

I had Koy as my pre-dinner snack. Heh. It tasted alright to me. As per usual, we ventured to the night market that night. At our regular food street, we had ...

Rice noodle soup, LAK15,000

Stirfried noodle with chicken, LAK15,000
I ate this and it did not suit my palate. I think it was overladen with msg.

We walked to La Banneton for ice-cream ... 

Lime sorbet, LAK13,000
It was tangy and citrusy, quite delicious!

I washed everything down with a bottle of Beerlao

At the night market, I bought 4 pairs of elephant pants, 1 elephant shorts, 1 singlet, a key chain made from the aluminium that was left by the bombs and field tanks from the war, 2 scarves, and a pouch.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Laos : Day 8 : Around Luang Prabang

Today was officially the last day of our tour. We woke up at 5.00 a.m. and went out at 5.30 a.m. We were going to see the alms giving ceremony. Every morning, in Luang Prabang, the monks come out in a procession to receive alms from the people.

A procession of saffron-robed monks outside Wat Sensoukharam along Sakkaline Road

They received mostly khao niaw or sticky rice. And according to our guide, back at the temple, there will be volunteers who would cook dishes for the monks to eat with the khao niaw

We ate this sweet red sticky rice in bamboo, it was delicious!

From outside of the temple, we walked to the morning market .. 

Rice
I bought 500g of sticky red rice to bring home, for only LAK4000

Dried cuttlefish

Dried bael fruit
I did buy a pack of this; I boiled 2 pieces in water for 5 minutes to make bael fruit tea; tasted like a mixture of citrus and cinnamon

River weed
Like seaweed, but from the river ....  we tasted both the roasted river weed sheets and the river weed floss; they tasted much like the seaweed that we were accustomed to 

After breakfast at our hotel, we commenced our tour. We visited the Royal Palace first. 

Haw Pha Bang is the Royal Temple
This was built to house Laos' most sacred buddha image, Pha Bang Buddha. It was after this Buddha image that the name of the town was conceived. No photos of the Buddha image were allowed here.

Statue of King Sisavang Vong at the palace grounds

The palace building 
The palace was built in 1904 during the French colonial era for King Sisavang Vong and his family.

We had to take off our shoes before we went inside the palace, where we could see the King's reception room and also his living quarters. I wondered why everything was dark inside the palace. The seemed to cast a gloomy spell upon the place. The king's bedroom was so dark that I could hardly see inside. We found later when we exited the palace, that there had been a power failure at the palace that morning. Hmn ... how lucky we were. 

Next we went to Wat Visounnarath. This temple was founded in 1512 during the reign of King Visounnarath (1501-1520).

The Buddha image inside the main temple hall

That Pathoume or That Mak Mo a.k.a. the watermelon stupa

Next was Wat Xieng Thong. It is one of the most important of Lao monasteries and remains a significant monument to the spirit of religion, royalty and traditional art. Wat Xieng Thong was built 1559-1560 by King Setthathirath near where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers join. Until 1975 the wat was a royal temple and the Lao kings were crowned in the wat.

 Entrance to Wat Xieng Thong

This building housed a huge funerary carriage  

One of the buildings within the compound

A lotus pillar adorned with glittering mosaics

More decorative mosaics on the wall 

    We got to witness a beautiful wedding photoshoot that morning ... 

After Wat Xieng Thong, we drove about an hour to Kuang Si Waterfall. Our group had late lunch at the stalls here ... 

Most people ordered this grill fish ...
The fish was fresh and the marinade minimal ... not too bad ...

Kuang Si was lovely.  

Welcome sign! 

The trail leading up to the main fall was scenic. I took my time walking on the trail and snapped photo after photo of the beautiful waters ... 

Lovely shade of turquoise blue 

The water looked very tempting 

 Looking at the water was therapeutic

 Lovely foliage along the trail ...

So mesmerising! 
 
Just awesome!

The main falls 

Visitors could sit around the main waterfalls for a picnic or a swim ... or they would walk up the steep trail right to the top of the waterfall. I refused to walk. Heh. I hung out here at the main falls .... 

Before we went back to our hotel, we visited Mount Phousi for the sunset. Mount Phousi is a 100m high hill in the centre of Luang Prabang. Though only 100m high, I was huffing and puffing on the way up. 

The view of Luang Prabang on my ascent

When I reached the summit, there were already lots of people there, all vying for a view of the sunset. I saw a member of my group Mr. P ... he'd found a nice spot and was shooting away with his sophisticated camera. I went to join him ... and eventually managed to get a nice spot too. I managed to see the sunset ... 

Just captivating! 

The last rays of the sun ... 

That night, as usual, we went browsing for things to buy at the night market. For dinner, I bought a piece of chocolate brownie ....

My brownie tasted awful!  I was pretty sure I could make better ones. 

We also had chee cheung fun for dinner. The stall was tucked away, right at the end of the food street ...

Yummy!  

 Topped with fried shallots and a sauce by the side

I wasn't sure what was in the filling, but it had pork in it. It was a tasty and familiar dinner. Back at the hotel, I chatted with my tour leader for a while before I retired for the night.

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