Dan, Dan the Strawberry Man
hen the people of the Cameron Highlands
decided to move into tourism, they threw all their eggs in one sweet basket.
Walking by the night market in Brinchang, we were amazed by the products we saw for sale: Strawberry-shaped keychains, magnets, pencils. Real strawberries turned into dried fruit, preserves, jams, syrups, tea. Strawberries coated with chocolate, yogurt, and powdered sugar. Strawberry picture frames, strawberry t-shirts.
Coming back to our base of Tanah Rata from one of our 16 km walks we stopped in at the Big Red Strawberry Farm in Brinchang. At the cafe in the visitor center we weren't surprised to find strawberry milkshakes, cakes and treats. But the adjoining gift shop? Someone had scoured the globe for every kind of strawberry product available—from Hershey's syrup to Japanese candy to soaps and plush toys.
Walking to a village where the local Aboriginal people were resettled when the British decided they wanted to hack down the jungle for tea plantations
(and strawberry farms) Dan got homemade strawberry-durian flavored ice-cream and we watched girls wearing strawberry-print dresses. Passing us were cars kitted out with strawberry-shaped pillows, strawberry-print seat and steering wheel covers and little plush strawberries dangling from the rear-view mirror.
On our first jungle walk to a short waterfall near the golf course, we found a welcoming gate—festooned with giant, fiberglass strawberries. Finally, inundated by the fruit, we sat down in a homestead strawberry farm and sucked on homemade strawberry Popsicles. An hour later, near our hotel, we found ourselves drinking local tea (thankfully, not the strawberry blend) and smothering fresh-baked scones with strawberry preserves and whipped cream.
So much for our New Year's resolution to cut back on sugar.
* * *
The Highlands, about 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) above sea level, offer clean mountain air and a break from the humidity and heat of Kuala Lumpur.
We were in the Cameron Highlands waiting for our Indian visas to be processed back in Kuala Lumpur. We had thought about another beach vacation or a trip to Malacca, but decided that we'd been inactive enough for the last three weeks in Australia and what we really needed was a few days walking, to get our strength up for whatever will face us next week in India.
Next stop: Kuala Lumpur **Click here to see our photos from the Cameron Highlands, in our Gallery****Click here to see our travel advice for the Cameron Highlands, in our Forum**
You've got to try this green thing.”
Dan's stepfather describes an icy drink with green noodles “like worms” in it. Later, before we leave, Dan's mom prides herself on her Penang-derived cuisine repertoire.
A few days later, on the plane, Dan waits for the bathroom and falls into conversation about Penang with a flight attendant. He comes back to our seats with a Malaysian Immigration arrivals card covered with suggestions of what to eat while we're there.
At a hostel we ask for a room but pick up a map dedicated to finding eateries in Penang.
This is Malaysia's Food City.
For years people have been telling us how good the eating is in Penang, but, after tasting the curries and stir-fries of Kuala Lumpur we had wondered--could it get better?
Well, it can.
Our first meal in multi-ethnic Penang consisted of something we'd had umpteen times. Dim sum, the southern Chinese snacking meal-- a breakfast or brunch of small dishes, for example dumplings or filled buns.
When we lived in our first home in China, Foshan, we went out for dim sum several times a month. But the cha siu bao
(barbecued pork buns), pai guat
(steamed pork ribs) and hai gao
(shrimp dumplings with transparent dough) were all better or at least on par with what we'd eaten in China proper. There was an added element to the flavors of the Mainland—a certain spicy sweetness that intensified as we sipped the licorice-infused Chinese tea.
Next, we were off to try Indian food.
At the Rosa Mutiara on Chiula St. we were coerced by very friendly wait staff into sitting down for some tandoori chicken. This is something on the menu of every Indian restaurant in the world, and we'd just had it a few months ago when we passed through K.L. However, this chicken was exactly the right balance between well-done and moist and the seasoning of the cheese naan bread and the mutton curry we ordered were also perfect.
Over our next few days in Penang we continued our adventures in eating rather than sightseeing.
When we weren't at the lunch table, we took in the Penang Hill train ride (and the candy-colored Hindu temple on top), visited the still-expanding Kek Lok Si Chinese temple in nearby Air Itam, and wandered the streets of Georgetown's Chinatown and Little India. We walked by the wharf where the Chinese immigrants had worked—were Dan's maternal forefathers among them?
But what lingers in the mind are the memories of sampling Colin and Marilyn's “green noodle” dish—chendul--at Penang's most famous chendul maker, in a little side street near the KOMTAR shopping complex, sipping fresh fruit juice in a night market, and queuing for our curries at the Line Clear side alley on Penang Street. We tried Hokkian Mee and Mee Curry, Char Koay Teow and searched high and low before finding an open outlet for Hainan Chicken rice.
Just when we realized we hadn't tried it all, it was time to leave on the early morning mini-bus for our next adventure—Krabi, Thailand.**Click here to see photos of Penang!**
"Are you relaxed yet?" Dan keeps asking me.
"Are you?" I ask back.
"I think so," he says, scratching at yet another mosquito bite. "Things keep biting me."
Here we are in Malaysia, in a secluded village on a tropical island. This is the beach reward we promised ourselves for three years in China, when all of our other foreign-teacher friends went on vacations to Thailand or the Philippines and we chose more remote, colder places to visit like minority villages or Gansu province.
And for a relaxation site, we have chosen well...we are at Salang Village on Tioman Island, more a cluster of resort bungalows than a village.
Eddy, the manager of the Puteri Salang Inn, where we are staying, mentioned relaxation three or four times when giving a tour of the property: "Here's the hammocks, for relaxing. The TV room, relaxing. Here is free tea and coffee relaxing. You can take a mat to the beach for more relaxing..All relaxing here."
Eddy himself doesn't seem to do much relaxing other than watching European soccer highlights on satellite TV at night. The first day here he plucked green coconuts from one of the trees on the property and showed the guests how to chop them open, drink the milk and then spoon out the insides. The rest of the time he's busy cleaning, gardening and answering questions.
He rented us some masks and fins and we went for a long snorkel from the beach to the point and back.
Monkeys were teasing tourists on the shoreline, seagulls screamed us away from their nests on the rocks, and underneath were shoe-sized parrot fish, tiny schools of stripy fish whose names I forget, and, the highlight, a two-foot long sea turtle who swam along underneath us for a few minutes. Tired out and stung by little jellyfish, we retired back to the beach for lunch.
Are we relaxed yet?
We came to Tioman Island from the nation's capital, Kuala Lumpur (which we are still trying to figure out how to pronounce correctly—until then, we'll use the initials, K.L.)
K.L. was a pleasant stop. We stayed in a very basic and reasonably cheap hostel (Backpacker's Traveler's Inn) in Chinatown, and spent our time doing a little shopping and a lot of eating. Malaysian food is a fusion of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine—a different taste for every meal.
We go back to K.L. for another two days at the end of the week before heading to Indonesia for four weeks. More relaxing!** Click here to see our pictures from Salang!**