Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Asia Trip Notes # 3

January 20, 2016

We had dinner with our dear Singaporean friends. One of the unique (and special) aspects of our international travels is that we seem to have friends in every port. Anthony has been a friend of ours for close to 20 years. We've seen his little girls grow up into young and mature women.

Anthony, his wife and three daughters picked us up in their SUV - a five passenger SUV! In the past, typically the three girls would sit in the back of the vehicle - sitting on the adult laps. Although the girls are grown up, tradition continues to reign. Anthony drove. Jerry sat next to him in the front of the SUV (bucket seats). The five women somehow squeezed together and off we went to the most interesting culinary experience.

Here we are - All Packed together!

Positioned in a huge and upscale shopping center/mall was a Korean restaurant. In a booth that comfortably sits four people,  two chairs were set up in the aisle and the rest of us squeezed onto the booth's two bench seats.

A very large pan was placed in the middle of the table. Filled with all sorts of sea food, chicken, beef, veggies and pasta, this unique concoction was cooked in front of us by one of the restaurant servers that stirred and turned the ingredients with a large wooden paddle.

 Before the food is cooked

After the food is cooked.

Good Friends!

We have a rather interesting connection with Anthony: He works for a competitor! Yet, our respective companies buy and sell from each other when there is no direct competition. His company is licensed to build (in Malaysia) product we designed and which he can sell it in areas where PMI has no presence. The companies help each other such as if there is a material shortage issue. And, best of all, we have a social relationship!

On the way back from the restaurant (which was situated in a Singapore area that jumps with night activity), Anthony drove us around so that we could experience a unique nightlife. 

Singapore's architecture during daytime is something to behold. 

However, the same buildings lit up at night - the skyline - the overall ambiance - is incredible! Other than Hong Kong and Shanghai, there may not be other city that has such a beautiful view!

"Everyone" was out for Saturday evening fun: Eating, going to the movies, watching local entertainment, walking to and fro, sitting on a bench and observing people do their thing and observing a fireworks display as part of the soon to arrive Chinese New Year. (Jerry should be happy. It is the year of the monkey - his Chinese sign). 

*                       *                       *                       *

Singapore is still very expensive. A small to midsize car (plus taxes) could be in the $100,000 range. Vehicles must be turned in (scrapped) after ten years (to minimize old car pollution) and certain areas of the city (during peak hours) do not allow regular vehicles or stiff fines will be imposed on the vehicle owners.

A golf club membership can easily cost $250,00. Playing the game is an additional charge.

Wages for low level jobs may start in the $5.00 to $7.00/hr range. Labor laws are quite different. Other than a lunch break, employees are required to work a full shift. There is no 10 minute morning and afternoon break.
The economy is slowing down. To cut costs, "Manufacturing" is leaving the country at a fast pace. Singapore is hopeful that expanding the "Service" industry (as well as tourism) will help the economic situation.

*                       *                       *                       *

Our Singapore arrival was in the dark. Our Singapore departure was also in the dark. Two alarm clocks and a wake up call (just in case) went off at 4:30 AM today. Our taxi left the hotel at 5:30 AM as we headed to Changi Airport

The Singapore airport has many areas to relax

We took an Silk Air flight to Penang, Malaysia

*                       *                       *                       *
When visiting Singapore, and without doubt, we know that we're in a foreign country. Besides the UK style of driving (on the wrong side of the road), building and road signage is somewhat strange being very English.

Unlike America, where most of the population is Caucasian, Afro-American and Hispanic, the demographics in Singapore is quite different with the majority of the population being Chinese, Indians, Malays, Eurasian and, of course some Caucasians.

It is also interesting to see such a diverse population working and mingling comfortably together. Yet, as different Singapore is to America, still there is a distinct feeling that we are in a "Western" country. However, an 80 minute flight takes us to a totally different country - one of our favorites:  Malaysia.

Early morning: Nearing Penang coastline

The "Little" Penang airport is growing up!

Malaysia (and Singapore) make up a major crossroad!

*                  *                 *                *

Malaysia remains a special country for us.

The people, the food and the overall ambiance is quite special. Although 50% of the population is Chinese, still even more distinctive, is the fact that Malaysia is a Moslem country! Most of the airport gate greeters, airport security personnel and airport store clerks are women wearing scarves that cover their head. Also, you will be able to see the same "look" at the many stores, factories and tourist spots



Burka or Abaya ladies (mostly visitors) are also quite prevalent. 

Some men wear skull caps.

*                       *                       *                       *

As soon as we left the Penang airport, we told our driver that we were "on a mission." We wanted to buy a special kind of rice pancake mix found only in this area and more specifically, only found in "Little India." The driver probably thought us a little odd.

To reach our destination, we drove by the historical part of what we would call "Chinatown." Locals burn incense as they pray in ornate temples.

Locals burned incense as they prayed at ornate temples

Old, rundown/weathered buildings created an image reminiscence of (perhaps) the late 1800's / early 1900's or even a Hollywood movie set.

Typical Chinatown Street

Chinatown warehouse

Chinatown store

"Little India" is equally fascinating. Several square blocks of narrow streets are crammed with small retail stores blaring Hindi music and trying to sell everything and anything imaginable that an Indian family may need.

How about a ride around town?

Want to make an offering a nearby temple?

Perhaps most interesting are the grocery stores displaying large bins filled with different colored grains, herbs and spices. Filling the nostrils our scents certainly not found in West Los Angeles, We were drawn by the aromas permeating the area.

We found our pancake mix!  Mission accomplished!

Hole in the wall restaurants are also found in this "Little India" area. We came across such a place that had a large hot grill positioned almost onto the sidewalk. A man was kneading dough which would soon turn into roti.

We purchased (for take away) three large hot (and very fresh) roti. It was surprising to see this bread-like concoction wrapped up for us in sheets of a Chinese newspaper. For three dollars, we also got a plastic bag filled with a favorable dipping sauce. Yum!

*                       *                       *                       *

Wealthy Moslem families come to Malaysia on holiday from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other nearby Arab countries. Upon arrival to our hotel, we happened to see a situation that was quite remarkable. A husband and his wife wearing a burka headed for the pool. Suddenly, it started to rain heavily. The husband (with a T-short and trunks) went into the pool. Fully covered with her Burka, the wife (with a "$1000 Gucci purse" and fancy shoes) stood at the side of the pool and watched her husband swim about. Then, he took his t-shirt off, handed it to her (mind you it is still pouring) and she proceeded to wring the t-shirt out. She just stood at the side of the pool - fully drenched. Amazing!

The sun came out about two hours later. People were in the pool and walking around the very tropical grounds. Moslem boys were playing in the pool, having a good time and playing around as one might do in a pool. However, there were no Moslem (young) girls anywhere to be seen.

There was another situation where some mothers wearing burkas were in the pool with pre-teen girls. The girls were in a bathing suit that literally covered their entire bodies.

As this blog is being written, a Saudi mother walked by with three children - two boys (probably 8 and 10) and a daughter that may have been around 12. The daughter was wearing a typical black Burka. However, in this case, her face was exposed. Perhaps, a year from now, the girl will be fully covered in public!?!?!

*                  *                  *                *

We have been trying to engage in a conversation with these Arab couples. Unfortunately, the men speak very little English. It seems that the women do understand English, translate for us but will not yet (as of yet) talk to us directly. Ultimately, we found a couple that was comfortable enough to talk to us

Mohammed and wife on honeymoon

        *                       *                       *                       *

Not all Moslem women cover their face with a veil and not all women wear Burkas. 

Overall, the majority of the Moslem women are quite attractive and noticeably quite small and slight in figure - at least it appears that they are slight in figure. (Most of the men are not handsome). 

*                  *                  *                  *

There is a real sense of exoticism when only two dark eyes (with make-up) peer out through a slit on the headdress. It's interesting how we can be drawn to the dark eyes.

*                       *                       *                       *

Shangri-la Rasa Sayang Hotel: 

We have been to this hotel several times. 

Check-in gave us a good room / good view!

Guests come and go. 

We must have made a positive impression in the past with the front office, pool and restaurant staff. When we were spotted, hotel employees would come up to us - crossed their right hand over their heart, shook our hands and then said to us, "Welcome home!" Truly, a nice touch!

Nearby islands

*                       *                       *                       *

Although we are staying at a nice and relaxing hotel, we still had meetings in the Penang area. Here is what happened yesterday:

Due to the customers that Jerry needed to see and individual's schedule, the traveling logistics was insane.

Up at 5:30 AM - breakfast at 6:30 AM

In order to give you an idea of what we had to do, we're going to use Los Angeles geography:

Driving from our hotel to the first meeting was like leaving our Banyan house and going to the Newport Beach area with typical "going to work traffic."

Our second meeting called for us to retrace our path and headed to Malibu.

Lunch followed our second meeting.

This Intel facility was in a "High-Tech Zone" located far away from city restaurants. Although the Intel company cafeteria would have been more than acceptable (with all of the different ethnic dishes), it was suggested that we go out to lunch. Because the factory was in a very rural area, we were limited to two restaurant choices: A place with great ambiance and so-so food or great food in front of a run-down house. We encouraged our host to choose what he felt was appropriate.

Not knowing that we were headed to the "ambiance" restaurant, we drove from the Intel plant to a small country road. We traveled for about 10 minutes through semi-jungle terrain with a variety of tropical fruit trees on either side of the road.

Every so often (and almost hidden by the thick vegetation) was a small house protected from the elements by a rusty corrugated roof or there might be a shack with a roof made from dried out palm fronds.

Eventually, we turned off the rutted, country road and drove onto a patch of land cleared for cars. We arrived at our destination - the restaurant with the ambiance. And, "Wow," it certainly had ambiance.

The Lake Front restaurant was situated by a large lake filled with a variety of fresh water fish. 

The menu was actually quite large. Besides many types of fish, we could order whole frogs, wild boar, venison, all sorts of side dishes (vegetables), rice and local beer.

Our host selected two types of fish one of which was a catfish. We don't recall the name of the other fish. The fish was steamed with seasonings, ginger and other condiments. Venison (wild) with a pepper sauce was ordered along with steamed veggies.

Cold beer during a very humid day hit the spot. The fish was light, delicate and delicious. The venison was equally good.

In a very local setting, this was a most unique and wonderful as well as a once-in-a-life time experience!

With lunch finished, we headed back to the same area of the first meeting (i.e. Newport Beach) where we had our third meeting and finally the day ended as we again retraced our steps and headed back our hotel (i.e. Banyan house).

We were so tired by the time that we got to our hotel, a bowl of noodles was all we had for dinner. Following the simple meal, Jerry had to do e-mails and start writing business meeting notes. His was a 19 hour day!

By the way, because we were so exhausted the previous day, our dinner constituted of a small package of dried banana chips that tasted like pretzels and an apple.

*                       *                       *                       *

We had one day of relaxation before it would be time to move on to China.

Besides her eye (cataract procedure) issue, Arlene is experiencing a painful hip problem. Mr. Lim (foot massage specialist) offered to work on her hip using a natural approach to minimizing pain.

Using his elbow, he dug into her hip and buttocks area. He wrapped a towel around her foot and pulled her leg as hard as could as if he tried to remove the leg from its socket! The procedure then called for (very) deep massage with his fingers.

Arlene's screaming response was: Ooh...oh my...god...ouch...ugh...ahhh...no,no,no...that's it...that's, that's the spot...ooh...no more...yes, that's it...do it again...that hurts so much...

Mr. Lim promised that Arlene's legs would be "blue." They were actually "black" and "blue!"

*                       *                       *                       *
We experienced a poignant moment during our last La Rasa Sayang evening. There was an "older gentleman" that was always alone - meals, at the beach, walking around, etc. We felt sorry for him - we invited him to join us for dinner. He politely declined.

"Robin" joined us a little later in the evening. He was deeply touched that we would reach out to him. Robin explained that his wife had recently passed away - he was traveling to areas where they had spent time together. He happened to be deep in thought when he was initially approached.

It turns out that he worked years ago for GE Medical and was part of the initial CatScan design team. 

More later...

*                       *                       *                       *

No comments:

Post a Comment