Friday, March 27, 2015

Exploring the EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival

EPCOT, monorail, DisneyWorld, Disney
The decorative berm on the slope surrounding the waterway is covered with 76,000 individual plants for the festival.
225 garden islands of colorful impatiens float in the waterway.


How excited was I about the EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival? To infinity and beyond. Beyond excited. I've always wanted to attend, and coincidentally, our Spring Break visit was during its multi-week run that ends May 17. Sure, Disney does a fantastic job of keeping its parks pretty throughout the year, but they really step it up a few notches at EPCOT during the festival with the addition of over 200,000 new plants. Flowered berms replace grassy hillsides and large topiaries stand proudly in flower beds. As an extra perk, additional food booths pop up around the World Showcase, and a few playgrounds are added in Future World. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Create Your Own Treats at Goofy's Candy Company

Look closely. This sign is made out of jelly beans.

I kind of feel like I need to make up for showing you all those dead and about-to-be-dead chickens last week. In a 180 degree turnaround, I'm focusing this post on the sweet treats of Goofy's Candy Company in Downtown Disney Marketplace.

When we first decided to visit DisneyWorld in Florida last year, what do you think was one of the first things my daughter put on the To Do list? Pictures with Anna and Elsa from Frozen? Nope. Thank goodness because the line for that character greeting was 3 hours long. A princess makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique nestled in Cinderella's Castle? Nope. My girl has never been the "princessy" type unless it's Princess Peach from Mario Brothers. Instead, she is one, giant walking sweet tooth. She takes after both her parents. So, when she said she wanted to visit Goofy's Candy Company, there wasn't much arm twisting to convince the rest of the family to go along.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Wet Market Chicken Stall

"Visit a local market" is an oft heard piece of advice when traveling internationally. It's a great way to take a peek into the daily life a local. For many visitors to Penang's Pulau Tikus Wet Market, also known as "The Rich Wives Market," the tour starts off pleasantly enough. The din of hundreds of customers and vendors echoes through the air, and there are plenty of exotic fruits and vegetables to ooh and ahh over. The fragrant, vividly hued blooms at the flower stall just beg to be photographed. Everyone is having a jolly good time.

Then....they come upon the chicken stall.

A chicken is weighed before being slaughtered.

For anyone who does all their shopping at a grocery store, the chicken stall is an eye-opener. If you're used to getting your chicken out of a refrigerated case on a styrofoam tray neatly wrapped in plastic film, the wet market chicken stall hits you over the head with the reality of how chickens end up on the plate in Penang. This realization left one visitor I was with standing there stunned with her mouth hanging wide open and a look of abject horror in her eyes. (Don't worry. No bloody photos ahead.)

There was something extra tragic about a living, breathing bird being weighed on a scale surrounded by members of his flock who had only recently been bled out and plucked. Did she fathom that she was about to share their fate?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ghee Hiang Biscuits, a Penang Food Souvenir

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy New Year!

An assortment of biscuits from Ghee Hiang

Chinese New Year is once again upon us. It's time for visiting family back in the home town, nightly fireworks, celebrating with friends, and giving lots and lots of gifts. While a hong bao (red envelope) filled with money is always welcome, food gifts are a nice touch, especially if it's the local specialty. Paris has its macarons. Belgium has its chocolates. Penang has Ghee Hiang pastry biscuits. I always bring these back to Texas with me. If I don't, my mom is sure to give me a hard time about it. (Hi mom!) She says they remind her of the Chinese pastries she enjoyed growing up in the Philippines.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Finding Hope in the Streets of Cambodia

Growing up, I never thought I'd visit Cambodia which was called "Kampuchea" back in the days when I still had to take Geography quizzes. Reports of horrible genocide dotted the news, and the award winning movie, The Killing Fields, loomed large in my formative years. Even after the Khmer Rouge's rule ended, they left the legacy of a decimated population and a maze of landmines throughout the country. It was the furthest place from a vacation spot that I could imagine.

438 anti-personnel mines and 809 unexploded ornances (UXOs) cleared from around Beng Mealea temple
The work is still ongoing.
Dogs are trained to detect them... and stop before triggering an explosion. 


Gradually though, the country has begun to heal itself. Instead of death and destruction, people come expecting to experience the wonders of the ancient Angkor temples. The Kingdom of Cambodia, as it's now officially called, has seen tourism grow by roughly 20% each year. I definitely feel that if I go back, visiting the temples will be a different, more crowded, experience. Comparing my trip to photos I saw in other blogs' posts, the temples are in the process of being superficially altered to handle bigger crowds — like adding boardwalk paths to keep visitors out of the mud and also control where they wander. It's getting harder to feel like Indiana Jones.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cambodian Snack Food: Bamboo Sticky Rice

It's Girl Scout Cookie time where I live in Texas. When we moved back this summer from Malaysia, I was so grateful that an existing Girl Scout troop was able to squeeze in my daughter that I uttered the words, "I will do anything to help." That, in short, is how I ended up being the Cookie Mom, the person who coordinates this fundraiser for our troop. If you're not familiar with Girl Scout cookies, they are only available in an area for 4-6 weeks, and they are HUGELY popular, especially Thin Mints. Girls sell them at booths outside stores on the weekends, and some parents sell them at work. American expats in Malaysia will hopefully ask that friends send a few boxes over. Even hardcore foodies who have sworn off all processed foods make an exception for Girl Scout Cookies.

To get my mind off of American cookies, I am turning my thoughts to Cambodian snacks.

You've heard of street food. What about highway food? The highway between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh is lined with stands selling Krolan (Bamboo Sticky Rice).  It's very similar to a dish I've seen in Thailand and Malaysia. The smoke rising up from the charcoal brazier is what first caught my eye, and then I noticed what initially looked like scrolls of parchment paper in baskets on tables. No one seemed to have a very big operation, but the stands were plentiful.

Friday, January 16, 2015

I Couldn't Believe They Carried That on a Motorcycle

One thing that always amazed me about Asia was what people carried on the back of a motorcycle.

Some things don't give me much pause. A passenger on back? People in Texas do that all the time. Although, a Buddhist monk as the passenger is something I've never seen in the USA.

A Buddhist monk (Cambodia)

I sometimes see whole families including kids and even babies all sharing one bike. Coming from Texas where kids are required by law to sit in a car booster seat until they are 8-years-old, this type of sight was hard for me to get accustomed to. I get it, though. Cars are expensive, and for a lot of families in Asia, one motorcycle is the only way to get the whole family around town.
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