Monday, November 29, 2010

Camping Templers park

I have wanted to start spending more time in Malaysia’s outdoors. Since I had a couple of days off Sunday thru Tuesday, and hoped it would be less crowded than usual. I’m still waiting for my car to repaired so I asked my girlfriend to drop me off and pick me up on Tuesday evening.
We left Saturday late afternoon, I’d originally planned to return to Commonwealth park and use the campground as a jump off or base camp and follow the stream up into the jungle. Well we arrived a bit later than I’d anticipated so it was dark when we got to the campground. Upon arrival we found the place packed with local scouts…hmmm, now what? I asked one of the leaders if they were using the entire camp? Yes they were.
So plan B. We drove to Templers, I have never been to the falls, and I’d heard there was space to camp there so we stopped to check it out. We saw a map showing the distances and I decided it was too far to blunder about in the dark so I’d come back in the morning.

  I got started and walked up the paved path to the “swimming pool “  past that, up some stairs to the trail. I passed a reservoir, to the first zig zag concrete bridge.
Most of Malaysia’s parks and outdoor places have great little covered rest stops along trails and walkways so when the inevitable rains come you have a place to shelter.
This was the first of many along the trail, you can see my pack where I stopped to get some photos. I continued on and so far I seem to be alone on a Sunday morning, well it is late November and the start of the monsoon season so I guess I’m the only one brave (read silly) enough to be out here.
So far the trail is easy and well used and the scenery is great, really a pleasant walk.
I did run into a few places where the trail was blocked by some deadfalls and had to navigate around, under or over them. I did lose the trail once and had to do a bit of backtracking to find it. But it wasn’t too bad.
This one I had to crawl under… And a few had to be scrambled over, but the trail gets enough use it is relatively easy. I continued on the the falls, being passed once by a couple day hiking. I had originally planned to camp near the falls, but when I got there the trash left piled up near the provided trash can and near one of the shelters kinda put me off. The trail is supposed to be a loop but it was pretty much blocked past the falls so I spent some time resting and picking off the leeches I’d acquired along the trail. Speaking of leeches I hadn’t noticed any on the way, I brought leech socks but hadn’t put them on, so I had a few on my legs near the ankle, also one had gotten under my shirt on my lower back. I got the leech socks on and tucked in my shirt to and prepared to back track and find a place to camp.
Of course now I started noticing the leeches and would knock them off when I saw them. I went back to a clearing on the opposite side of the stream, where someone had built a bamboo platform which looked like a good spot to camp.

Here are a couple of poor shots of the falls.

                                                                                                                                                                                       Here’s the platform someone had built

I set up my hammock and changed out of my wet clothes and socks. I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring and staying out of the rain sitting in my hammock.
The clearing was good, however finding trees to hang my bed was a bit hard but I managed. Since it’s mostly damp, and dry wood is hard to find, I decided to wait till evening to start a fire. I planned to try cooking rice in bamboo, and heating some curry in a large piece of split bamboo but as luck would have it once I did get the fire going it started raining and put out the fire… So what did I learn? Well, bring a second tarp to rig above a cooking area. I did have my stove so I could cook the rice but it wasn’t as fun as the bamboo I wanted to try. I also spent some time purifying  water.
I saw quite a few ants and some of them were huge! I have read about bullet ant and don’t know if that’s what they were and didn’t let them near enough to find out if they’d bite me. There were a few leeches around and I had to be careful as they’d work their way up the socks to just below my knee and find bare skin to attach to. I had read the some of the Orang asli (native people) will make “tea” from tobacco which will deter the leeches, I tried it but I’m not sure… I found I leech in my boot (I was sockless) but it wasn’t eating me, so I’m not sure if it was already full and looking for a way out or if it didn’t like the tobacco. I’ll have to test it further.
IMG_0649 IMG_0651
My leech socks…

I did have a problem with my boots. I have read on some websites that a lot of shoes or hiking boots don’t last very long in the jungle. Well I have a pair of REI (made by Merrell I think) boot which I’d used in the US for about a year that I brought with me. They lasted one day… The sole separated from the boot that evening, I couldn’t even fix it with duct tape, too wet so I tied them on with the laces.
Other than the soles falling off the boots are in great shape… so I’ll have them re-glued and see if that’ll last at all… So if you bring footwear to the Malaysian jungle make sure they’re stitched! IMG_0673                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

I had arranged to be picked up the next evening so that afternoon I packed up and headed out the the parking area. It was a great trip and each time I go out I learn a little more. I plan on trying to get on a jungle coarse here or go out with some locals.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Camping at Commonwealth Park (Taman Komanwel)

I was an avid camper in the US and I'd planned to camp here in Malaysia. I even shipped over some of my gear like, a REI 6 man tent, an two man tent, and some backpacking stuff.
After being here for a few years I finally went! Well, this was the second trip I went once to Kuala Kubu Baru on my own for 1 night but this was the first "full scale" trip.
My friend's kids (10 and 7) wanted to, camp for the first time, have a campfire, and fish as well. Commonwealth near Rawang was near enough if a disaster occurred we could be home quickly. I loaded the gear and the dog in the car and we set out.
I took the 6 man tent for all of us, sleeping pads, and cooking equipment.
When we arrived the dog promptly threw up in the car. Now I know she has a history of car sickness but I thought I’d dodged the bullet when we pulled off the road and she’d been fine the entire trip, but alas no… So we parked, cleaned up as best as we could, and started looking for a campsite. It was Hari Raya weekend here (a celebration ending Ramadan the Islamic fasting month) so I figured the place would be deserted, so I was surprised to see multiple tents set up. I turned out to be a group of young guys from a local church.
Once we picked a spot we had to lug the gear and get camp set up. I started with the tent so if the daily rain started we’d have a refuge. The sites all have raised “beds” for tents which are filled with sandy soil for easy drainage, they have metal rails to tie up to... and trip over.  There are concrete benches and some tables, and a covered cooking area with a BBQ, some one had built a table of bamboo near the cooking area.1009201005410092010052
After the tent was set up, I had the kids collecting wood for “their” campfire. That’s always fun getting a fire lit in the jungle as the wood is always damp.
10092010050 10092010060 After the fire was started and the initial wow wore off they wanted to fish… ok, so I dig out the tackle and tie it to stick as we didn’t have rods.10092010057 They didn’t have much patients, the bait was barely wet before they yanked it out to check for fish or move to a better spot, so needless to say the fish were safe and none were caught.
That night the full effect of the fire could be enjoyed, even with the lack of roast able edibles i.e. marshmallows. I have solemnly swore we’ll bring them next time. The campground is fairly clean and the sites had rubbish bins (trash cans for us Americans) which is nice even if the monkeys and cats drag it out again. That’s assuming the trash makes it in the can in the first place, Malaysians have a penchant for dropping their trash wherever they happen to be standing. The facilities are pretty well maintained, again by Malaysian standards there are restrooms and piped water as well as a group cooking area.11092010065
We were fortunate it didn’t rain the two days we were there, although we didn’t see any wildlife we could hear monkeys and birds…oh and leeches I forgot to mention them. They are everywhere so pulling leeches off was a constant chore, not too many mosquitoes though.
I did see a firefly later that night and there are some huge ants but they didn’t seem too interested in us so that was alright. 10092010058
Lucy our dog had a great time in spite of being tied up a lot, I did let her off her leash since I didn’t see any Muslims and she was minding… mostly. She did tear off and start barking at a couple of the boys camping next to us so the freedom was short lived. But she had a blast while it lasted.
We kept it to one night, so the old adage of “leave them wanting more” is true as the kids want to go again. So the next one will be a two niter. Along with the marshmallows we’ll add hot dogs or other campfire roast able foods.
10092010056 I’d recommend this place for families, bring fire starters and maybe some dry wood. We didn’t have to pay but I’ve read they usually charge RM5 a night.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Relocating to an new country

I am posting this later as it was started and not finished until some time after I reached Asia.

At 10:30 PM on Tuesday night I walk in to the perpetual chaos of Tom Bradley international terminal. Most often when I fly internationally it's at midnight or sometime there after, I guess it's cheaper to fly after midnight...and flight MH095 was scheduled for a 1:40 AM departure, Oh goody.
It feels a little surreal, I keep reminding my self I am not coming back in a week or ten days... My ex-wife drove me to the airport, as she was going to keep my... well, her truck now. I unloaded my bags out onto the curb, rushing guiltily as if I am personally holding up all the cars jockeying for position at the curb. Even my ex ran around to get in to drivers seat for a quick getaway. So when I get my bags out, I awkwardly shake her hand and say thanks. As she drives away I stand on the curb with way too much stuff, and it sinks in I am starting the newest stage of my life,
Luckily the Malaysian airline counter was near the door and I could slip right in line, me and my dunnage, is that a word? I think it is, doesn't it mean cargo? if it doesn't it should. Anyway as you can tell I am fixated on how much stuff I'm taking (and I refuse to talk about what I shipped ahead) It's funny how we... (most of the Americans I know) are attached to our security blankets. When I travel no mater the length of the trip I attempt to carry on my stuff, not this time.
I start the crawl to the check in counter, the guy in front of me strikes up a conversation as we're making small talk about international travel, a swarthy young guy (Ha! I have always wanted to use that word) I think he's Malay, like I know... but anyway he's looking at my bags (yes I know they're ginormus) he asks "do you know what our weight limits are?" so the three of us start discussing it...Malaysia Airlines has just recently lowered the max check in bag weight from 70 lbs. to 50 lbs. with the caveat that it applied to tickets purchased before some time in April. But, as well as Malaysian airlines appears to be run (more on that later) their website isn't very user friendly. because no one else seemed to know it, and I missed the part about carry on's weighing less than 11 lbs. So after so creative cargo shifting, collecting my boarding pass (with the admonishment " we will be boarding at 12:00 AM... really? I doubt that highly) it's off to play x-ray, x-ray where is the baggage x-ray, Oh... and after that , security....I am all a twitter with excitement.

Monday, September 8, 2008

"If" By: Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about youimage
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Becoming an English teacher (or do I really want a CELTA?)

As I said in a previous post when I decided to leave the US and live overseas, teaching English seemed the natural thing to do; I'm a native speaker right? Reasonably intelligent right? Should be easy....
So: I sold most of my things, packed the stuff I couldn't part with, enrolled in a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) course at the British Council in Kuala Lumpur and bought a one way ticket to Malaysia.
I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, met by my friend who I would be staying with. I had a couple of weeks before my course started to acclimate to living in Malaysia. I enjoyed that mini vacation. The course started on July 16th and ran until August 12th, I won't bore you with all the details. However I will say it was one of the hardest things I have ever done, their description of an "intensive course", doesn't come close to describing how hard, stressful and agonizing this 5 weeks can be. I thought my previous tests for levels of black belt in Shaolin Chuan Fa were bad and physically they were, but this took the cake for mental torture.

There were 11 of us; 2 from England, 1 from from New Zealand, 3 Malaysian Indians, 1 Saudi Arabian, 3 Malaysian Chinese and me the lone American which was real special since I was the only one speaking and writing American English. There were a number of times I did not think I would pass the course, and a few times I didn't care if I did...
Two of my course mates didn't pass...a very expensive lesson.
Most of us got pretty close during the course as people do when sharing a trying experience. Now we have mostly gone our separate ways with vows of keeping in touch...speaking of which I need to send an email...Anyway 1 is off to South Korea to teach, 1 is looking to work here at the British council, and most of the Malaysians went to their respective homes to find work or continue at their previous jobs.
I sent out numerous CV's (Resumes) to places here in KL and and Singapore. I was contacted and interviewed by a school called ELS, they offered me a part time position to gain experience needed for the work permit. I observed some lessons, taught a demo. I worked there for a while when I received an email from the West Business school in Singapore, I went for and an interview and accepted a full time position which much better pay and benefits than ELS.
So now I will be moving to Singapore for at least a year maybe longer. I start on September 12th. I am searching for a room to rent and a way to get my things to S'pore without it costing more than it would to replace them...

Biscuits and Sawmill Gravy

I came across a blog called The Art of Manliness, and a discussion of cooking. Well this in my opinion is one of the most manly dishes any man can make....

Biscuits and gravy...oh how I love thee... This, to me is the soul of comfort food.
Growing up in a Bakersfield "okie",household most Sunday morning breakfasts consisted of: bacon, fried eggs, sausage patties, fried potatoes, drop biscuits and gravy. I guess it was a throwback to my Fathers Texas farmer roots.
At the time I didn't know there were different types of gravy; sawmill, bacon, redeye...Mom mostly made bacon gravy, since that's what dad grew up with, I just remember sitting down to mounds of the most unhealthy but, the most delicious breakfast fare ever imagined.
After leaving home, I would try to recapture that wonderful fluffy biscuit covered in hot creamy gravy with bits of meat. I ordered it in restaurants to be miserably disappointed, even in the South. Friends made it for me...wrong, I tried to make it...wrong. Then I discovered Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet. His cooking show first and then his books. In The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American he had a recipe for biscuits and gravy...eureka! I finally found a way to recreate that bucolic meal of my youth. This was a recipe for ,"Sawmill gravy" made with bulk sausage, years later my mom was making gravy for me and I discovered she had always made bacon gravy but as I said I didn't know the difference.
Which is better? I like them both...but, sorry mom I like the sawmill version better.
This works great at home, but it really shines when camping. Most people would agree that food is always better eaten, "outside". The gravy is dead easy and the biscuits while a little harder to do when camping, become easy with a good Dutch oven and some practice. I will write the home method and give some advice for camping after.
It is perfectly acceptable to used the "canned" pre-made ready to cook type found in grocery store's refrigerated section, or even better or the pre-made frozen ready to cook variety. Follow the baking instructions provided.
I always made Bisquick or other variety of baking mix drop biscuits. Just follow the package directions.

Sawmill gravy; (here are measurements)
1/2 pound or a "chub" of bulk pork breakfast sausage
2-3 tablespoons chopped onion (optional)
3-4 tablespoons of flour (Wondra works well)
2 cups milk
Pepper and salt
Having given amounts I will describe the easiest way to make it.
In a good size frying pan with high sides (cast iron is best, especially camping) fry the sausage (I use the 1 lb chub) and onion until the sausage is browned (some recipes will tell you to drain off all but 2 tablespoons of grease...I won't) I then take the canister of wondra and sprinkle it over the sausage to coat it very well, add enough of the flour so the pan looks "dry" and all the meat is coated and grease is absorbed. It will look a tan-ish brown. Let the flour cook a bit stirring to mix it. Once the flour has cooked, start adding the milk a little at a time stirring and scraping (I don't measure the milk, I just keep adding it till the consistency looks good) the gravy will thicken as it cooks. Its a good idea to make it a little on the, "thin" side because it will thicken as it sits. Season it with liberal amounts of black pepper and taste it to see if it needs salt.

To make bacon gravy you can dice the bacon and fry it to render the grease, sprinkle in the flour and continue just as you do for the sausage gravy.

To serve you can split the biscuit and spoon the gravy generously over the halves or as I do just break the biscuit into pieces in a pile and ladle away!
Another tip for camping, use cast iron pans. With proper seasoning they are better than Teflon, they are near destructible and the best part...the hold the heat so while you are sitting down to eat your food stays warm.

A pinch of cayenne pepper will "kick it up"
To make biscuits while camping and impress and amaze your friends and family; find a Dutch oven, the type with 3 legs and a lid with tall sides. If it's new season it well ( wash it, heat the oven to 350 coat the entire Dutch oven in vegetable oil (I like peanut, higher smoke point) put the coated pot and lid in the oven and let is "bake" 1 hour then turn the oven off and let the pieces cool with the oven, do this two or three times)
When you want cook the biscuits, light about 50 charcoal briquettes. When the briquettes are glowing find a flat non flammable surface ( dirt clear of anything that will catch fire) and arrange about 10 coals in two concentric circles, 4 coals making a small circle, 6 coals ringing them the outer circle should be a bit smaller than the size of your Dutch oven.
Put the prepared biscuits in the oven, sides touching. Put the lid on and set the oven over the coals. Arrange about 20 coals on the lid, you want more coals on the top than the bottom.
Cook for about 30-40 min's then check the biscuits, add coals if needed....But be patient! do try to speed it up with more heat...or burn it, you will... And that's not sexy

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tinga Poblana

I have a much used and loved copy of Rick Bayless's cookbook Authentic Mexican. I have loved everything I have made from this book, but this recipe is my favorite and I decided to post it in my blog in case I lose the book I will still have this recipe. I am even taking three cans of chipotle chiles with me to Malaysia much to my sisters amusement, "yes I know you can ship stuff to me"...but just in case...
I was living in Seattle for six months and I left the book here in LA, so when I was craving this little slice of epicurean nirvana and didn't have the recipe...yes you'd think I would have memorized it by now, but since hitting forty....hard, I can hardly remember where I've parked my car. 
During a cold slightly snowy weekend I wanted to make this, and to my dismay I didn't have the book, so I scoured the web. I use to believe you could find anything on the Internet, until I could not find this recipe. I found many close to it, and the one I picked just wasn't it.
So here in my never to be humble opinion is the best Tinga recipe, which I am sure is divinely inspired. (and slightly tinkered with...)
Yield: 4 servings (yeah right, so whadda you gonna eat?)
  • 1 pound lean, boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes.
  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed dried herbs (thyme, marjoram,)
  • 3 Bay leaves
  • 2 medium (about 10 oz) red potatoes quartered
  • 1 1/2 pounds (3 large) ripe tomatoes, roasted and peeled OR one 28 oz can
  • 4 to 6 ounces of Chorizo (hmm bet I wont find that in KL either so I will add that recipe as well)
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 onion diced (medium)
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 of the chiles chipotle from the can seeded and chopped
  • 4 tsp of the Adobo sauce from the can
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
Que music "this is how we do it"....
  1. The Meat. Bring about a quart of water to a boil in a medium saucepan, add salt then the pork, skim the grayish foam that rises to the top during the first few minutes of simmering, add any of the dried herbs and bay leaves. Partially cover and simmer over medium heat until the meat is tender about 50 minutes. If you have the time let the meat cool in the broth, remove the meat, strain the broth, de-fat it and reserve 1 cup. when meat is cool enough break it up the bigger pieces.
  2. The potatoes, tomatoes and chorizo. Boil the potatoes in salted water to cover until just tender approx. 15 minutes; drain, and chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Dice tomatoes (if not canned diced). Fry the chorizo (in oil if needed it can be pretty fatty) in a large heavy skillet over med heat. ( this is where I deviate, I leave the chorizo in and brown the pork and onions all at once) Stir in the garlic and let get fragrant.
  3. Finishing the stew. Pour in the tomatoes (sort of de-glazing the pan) add the potatoes, oregano, the chopped chiles, adobo sauce and the reserved broth and stir and simmer for 10 minutes or so to blend.
  4. Serve garnished with avocado slices, fresh cheese like queso fresco, any other soft style cheese...or just eat it.
I will add pictures the next time I make this.....ahhh, te amo....te qiero