Thursday, June 27, 2013

Getting a Lock on Love in Paris

Love locks on Pont de l'Archevêché with Notre Dame in the background

Hubby and I are not very romantic. Our 21st wedding anniversary was the day before our trip. His gift to me was Googling "Roses" on his iPhone, finding some pictures of said roses, and showing them to me. I gave him a thermos. Yes, a thermos. Folks, this is what decades of marriage does to a couple. But we turned to each other and said, "Paris! We're going to Paris!" And then we headed to the bedroom to... finish packing our luggage and attempt to get a good night's sleep before our redeye flight the next day.

That's why our visit to the Love Locks bridge in Paris was uncharacteristic for us. It's so very romantic. Brass and nickel are actually the traditional 21st anniversary wedding gift, so I made sure we picked out a brass lock. See, we can play by the rules after all.

My first glimpse of a love locks bridge was during our boat ride on the Seine River. The railings in the distance started glimmering in the afternoon sun. I thought it was some sort of elaborate, guilded ornamentation at first. Nope, it was an array of locks.

A different bridge with love locks

Couples write or engrave their names on a padlock, attach it to the bridge and then throw the key in the Seine. (Note: Combination locks are not as romantic. There's nothing to throw, and they remind me of high school lockers.) The lock symbolizes the permanence of the relationship, at least until the Parisian authorities start moaning about the locks ruining the architectural heritage of the bridges and order them to be cut off. When the big clean up happened to a number of bridges in 2010, the locks immediately started appearing on the Pont de l'Archevêché again. Love triumphs over all!

Celebrating 21 years of marital bliss with a padlock. At least it's not a ball and chain.

When we were there, the bridge was so chock full of locks that it was difficult to find an empty spot to hang our own lock. This is obviously a popular tradition, and you can buy a lock nearby if you forgot to bring one. The kids enjoyed looking for unusual locks such as the one shaped like a turtle. When I saw the one with "Two Drifters Out to See the World" scratched into it, I thought of two backpackers pledging their eternal love right there in the same spot where I was standing.

My son is trying to find the lock we just finished attaching to the bridge.

The kids wanted to hang locks, too but were stymied by the fact that none of them are in a permanent romantic relationship. (Thank goodness!!) Actually, my daughter has her eye on a couple boys, but we claimed hanging multiple locks was not in the spirit of the tradition. My boy suggested hanging one with his name and then "______" next to it for him to come back in the future and fill in. We also nixed that idea. They tried to remember the exact location of hubby's and my lock to show their own kids one day. How sweet!

Love locks are showing up in other parts of Paris. In fact, you can find them all over the world. Perhaps there's one near you.

Love lock on the Eiffel Tower overlooking Paris

This post is part of "Travel Photo Thursday" on Budget Travelers Sandbox, "Oh, the Places I've Been!" on The Tablescaper, "Sunday Traveler" on Ice Cream and Permafrost, and "Friday Daydreamin'" on R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world Travel Inspiration.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Géode as Big as the Ritz

View from Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie
Photo credit goes to my darling girl

Wandering through Parc de la Villette in Paris, I spotted a giant gazing ball off in the distance. Against the overcast sky, it looked like a bubble with its edges barely delineated against the clouds.

Mirror ball

We had found La Géode, an enormous, mirrored, geodesic sphere, similar to EPCOT's iconic Spaceship Earth but with a highly reflective surface. At 36 meters (118 feet) in diameter, it is covered with 6,433 stainless steel triangles and is the equivalent of a 12-story building.

A selfie in one of the equilateral triangles with 1.2 meter (3.6 foot) sides.

Paris is famous for its Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre and other historical buildings. I found this very modern structure quite refreshing and this park to be where I felt surrounded by locals instead of tourists.

Can you spot the people at the bottom center of this photo?
See the red architectural folly off to the right?
I call it "Stairs to Nowhere."

Completed in 1985,  La Géode is an 400-seat Omnimax theatre showing IMAX films, 3D films, satellite concert events, and broadcasts of the New York City Metropolitan Opera. It is connected to Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie which is the largest science museum in Europe. Inside the museum is Cité des Enfants, a children's museum perfect for kiddos who have had enough of looking at art and churches and want some hands-on activities.

La Géode


This post is part of "Travel Photo Thursday" on Budget Travelers Sandbox and "Oh the Places I've Been" on The Tablescaper. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Wants Versus Needs

My son's map where he tracks where we've been.
We’re headed towards our Texas home for a few weeks visit before returning to Malaysia for one more year. I’m writing this somewhere just south of Greenland, racing through the sky at 512 mph, suspended over the earth at 34,000 feet with nothing but air velocity, wing shape, and physics keeping the plane aloft. It kind of reminds me of our decision to move overseas. Don't think about it too much and just trust that it will all work out fine.
I knew that being an expat would change us. That’s to be expected. When we first moved overseas, we returned to Texas every 6 months. That kept me tethered to my American life. It kept details fresh in my mind. But this time, it's been a year-long absence. It’s beginning to feel like I’m shedding my old American skin and turning into some hybrid, not-quite-American, not-quite-Malaysian gal. Perhaps it’s just my daftness shining through, but I’m beginning to forget exactly how things work in the United States. Knowing that this move isn’t forever has kept me in an in-between place where I don’t seem to fully adapt to Malaysian life but merely find ways to make do for the time being. I'm just biding my time. I keep putting things off in Malaysia and wait until I’m back in America – like going to the dentist or, oddly, shopping for clothes.

For the past two years, we’ve lived in a not-quite-First-World country. Malaysia is still developing, on the brink of breaking through. Life is pretty good in Penang, but it’s definitely a place where I’ve learned about wants versus needs. I have most of what I need but not everything that I want.

I’ve also reevaluated what category – want or need – things fall into. In Texas, an electrical outage would be a cause for concern. In Malaysia, it’s happened to me so often that it no longer throws me for a loop. A power outage is no reason to cancel a multi-family playdate or a friend’s Ladies Night Out. Who needs electricity to have fun? During Earth Hour, people all over the world were encouraged to turn off their electrical products for 60 whole minutes. Really? One hour of no power is for sissies. Try it for hours while playing hostess.

I’ve been up and down the 500 steps to our condo unit so many times when the elevator doesn’t work. 400 steps to the top of Notre Dame? That’s nothing. Bring it on.
Apparently, reliable electricity and a functional lift are now Wants, not Needs. I always want them but have learned that they aren’t completely necessary. (Note: I seem to be the only one of my Penang friends who has these problems. Most other condos don’t have as many issues. If you’re thinking of moving, don’t let me scare you off.)
I also seem to be using more British English like "lift" instead of "elevator" and "rubbish" instead of "garbage." Perhaps I needed an audible indicator of the gulf of change that's developing in me?
Is it weird that what I miss most about the United States is the rampant consumerism shopping? My impulse purchases have gone waaaaaaaay down since we’ve moved overseas. Alas, our travel expenses seem to have more than offset this change in behavior. I don’t know if it’s that Malaysian marketing isn’t as effective on me or what, but that “Ooohhh, that looks nice. Gimme, gimme, gimme,” feeling just doesn’t come over me as much when I’m at stores there. America is much better at separating me from my money. 

What do I want? Too much. What do I need? Apparently, less than what I thought when I lived in the United States.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

21 Years of Traveling through Marriage

We'll be heading off to Paris soon. I remember the last time I was there. It was summer. I was young and in love but traveling with my parents while my boyfriend back in Texas was packing up to move to another city. Would the relationship last? I had no idea. I definitely had my doubts. It would be at least two more years before I would graduate from university and could contemplate joining him.

May 1990 —  I first visited Paris one month after this.

The friendship between this boy and myself started blossoming into something more the year beforehand when we started writing letters to each other while he was away on a summer internship. Yes, actual letters — on paper, in envelopes with stamps... the kind where you have to check your physical mailbox to see if the postman had left you something. I didn't realize at that time that we were at the end of an era. Do young folks smitten with each other still pen missives to give their romance an epistolary kick start?

Joyfully, our relationship survived the distance and the many trips back and forth to visit each other. Well, it was him driving to see me 99% of the time.

One of the things that really impressed me about this guy was his traveling childhood. Every summer, his family of  two parents and four boys would jet off somewhere to explore the world. Machu Picchu, The Forbidden City, the Coliseum, the Sydney Opera House, the Pyramids at Giza, and on and on... He'd been everywhere.

June 6, 1992 — Our wedding day

We were married twenty-one years ago on June 6. "D-Day" is usually the first comment I get when I tell people our anniversary date. From the reception, we headed directly to the airport for our honeymoon, our first vacation together. It was my first big trip without either my parents or a priest (high school church ski trip) accompanying me. I was married and felt so grown-up! We sailed out of Miami on a Caribbean cruise. He had many cruises under his belt, but this was my maiden (matron?) voyage. Afterwards, we spent a week at Disney World. Who needs kids to hang with the Mouse?

January 2008 
Disney World with kids almost 15 years after our honeymoon there

This summer, we're headed to Paris. My love will be by my side instead of an ocean away.

I'm such a different person than the young lass who visited there decades ago. My black hair is starting to show strands of gray. My mid-section is squishier. I'm no longer somewhat insecure in my relationship. It feels rock solid, unlike my abs. I've graduated from being the kid to being the mom — three times over, no less.

Hanson Bay, Kangaroo Island, Australia — January 2013

Happy 21st Anniversary to my much adored husband.

I am blessed to call you mine.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox. Check it out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Dine with Pearly: Homecooked Nyonya Makan Meal

Pearly Kee is one of Penang's doyens of Nyonya cuisine. Numerous friends have raved about her cooking classes, so I was quite excited when she invited me to be her guest at her new venture, Dine with Pearly. Once a month, Pearly opens her home so guests can savor delicious Nyonya comfort food cooked by her. Some dishes are simple to prepare but with outstanding flavor while others take so long to make that there's no way she could include them in a cooking class. What sets Dine with Pearly apart from a regular, never-see-the-chef, restaurant dining experience is that you have Pearly playing hostess regaling you with tales of her life in Penang.

What is Nyonya Cuisine?

Baba men and Nyonya women are Peranakans, the descendants of early Chinese immigrants in Malaysia and Singapore's old Straits settlements. Centuries before fusion food became trendy, these immigrants adapted their traditional, homeland recipes to incorporate ingredients commonly found in the new, tropical climate. With a bit of intermingling with their Malay neighbors, Nyonya cuisine was born. For those who do not have their own Nyonya grandmother or mother to teach them family recipes, Pearly Kee is the person to turn to.

Feasting on Homecooked Food

Pearly and her helpers worked in her kitchen for two days preparing all the food for the dinner. The yummy dishes were laid out on her veranda with helpful signs and explanations accompanying each platter.

Achat Awak - Mixed vegetables cooked in a spicy sauce

I enjoyed the crunchy vegetables and spiciness of this Achat Awak. Carrots, cabbage, pineapple, long beans and sesame seeds provided contrasting notes. Pearly was so kind as to pack some up at the end of the meal for me to take home for the next day, too. After marinating all night, the vegetables really did have quite a hot kick to them.

Chap Chai Char - Stir-fried vegetables, glass noodles and black fungus cooked with bean paste

The Chap Chai Char was my favorite dish because it reminded me so much of the homecooked dinners I've enjoyed in my Chinese aunt's kitchen in Texas. It was like the scene from Ratatouille  where the critic takes one bite and is suddenly transported back to his childhood. I've always enjoyed the crunch and flavor of woodear black fungus, and the glass noodles made of mung beans soaked up the flavorful sauce.

I also went back for seconds of the Kari Kay (Curry Chicken and Potatoes) with Roti Jala (batter drizzled across the griddle and cooked into a net-like crepe). I must have been so overwhelmed with all the delightful offerings because I forgot to take a picture of it. No time to snap photos! The Steamed Egg with Minced Pork came in individual bowls and had a salted egg yolk nestled inside. Nasi Kunyit (Sticky Yellow Rice) rounded out the offerings for the the main part of our meal.

Gandum - Wheat Porridge with caramelized tapioca tidbit

My husband said the dessert of Gandum (wheat porridge) reminded him of the very Western bowl of oatmeal he had for breakfast that morning except not as sweet.  I had to ask what the caramelized chunk laid on top was because I couldn't quite pinpoint the taste. When my table companion said it was tapioca, I didn't believe him because I'm so accustomed to eating it in its highly processed form of pearls from a box boiled into tapioca pudding. This tapioca was in its more natural state of just being cut off the tuber. While researching this blog post, I realized that tapioca is also called cassava which I'm very familiar with through all the Filipino food I ate growing up.

Kuih - traditional Nyonya cakes made of steamed glutinous rice
These kuih also reminded me of the Chinese Filipino dishes served at parties and special occasions during my childhood in Texas. The blue comes from soaking bunga telang (blue-pea) flowers in water to extract their vibrant color. A little dollop of sweet kaya (coconut custard jam) topped each one. The green and orange kuih on the right are steamed inside decorative molds to get their special shape. They are soft and shake "like a bowl full of jelly."

Sliced starfruit and guava were the other dessert course offerings. Once again, I was reminded of my Texas home as my mother in Houston used to grow guavas until an usually long cold spell killed off her trees.

Dragonfruit drink

A concoction of dragonfruit juice and Sprite sated our thirst. I was definitely gulping it down when I sampled some of the spicier dishes.

Relaxing with Conversation

While we dined, Pearly told us about Nyonya food and culture. In the olden days, families would have elaborate dinners to show off their unmarried daughters. The eligible girls would dress up for the guests and hold silk handkerchiefs up in front of their mouths while politely nibbling on tiny morsels of food. Only an uncouth young woman would dare to gnaw on food without shielding her mouth from view. Bite-size Inche Kabin (Lipstick chicken) was perfect for polite eating, not even mussing up their lipstick while they ate. Other stories were more personal about growing up in Penang. If you're very nice, she may let you take a sniff of the aptly named Chicken Poo leaves from her garden.

Pearly, in the red shirt, attentively listens to the other guests at the dinner.

The dinner turned out to be a very enjoyable experience of good food and delightful company. The group the night I attended in May was mostly local Penangites, a few good friends of Pearly, and a couple tourists who weren't able to fit into her cooking class. While I had feared that it might turn into an awkward dinner where we dashed after staying the obligatory amount of time dictated by decorum, Pearly's friendliness set everyone at ease.

She holds these Dine with Pearly dinners at her home once a month and charges RM50 per person. Her website lists the upcoming months' buffet menu which change for each dinner, but she sometimes makes additions if the she feels to urge or if someone has a special requests. Private dinners may also be arranged if she has time in her schedule.

A Nyonya Inheritance, Pearly's new cookbook

Her New Cookbook

Pearly recently released a cookbook of 35 favorite recipes entitled A Nyonya Inheritance. I've already bought a few copies to give as gifts when I return to Texas. She tells you a little bit about growing up Nyonya and gives a background about the cuisine. You can also take an armchair tour of the local wet market with pictures and introductions to the vendors she meets while shopping for ingredients.

The recipes themselves are well written, and I really like that she breaks the complicated ones apart with separate ingredient lists for the different components instead of running them all together into one long list. Pictures accompany each recipe, and she sometimes includes pertinent tips, too. She's realistic in that she illustrates the 11 steps of making coconut leaf parcels for Otak-otak (fish mousse) but ends it with an "if you're feeling lazy" alternative. Pearly gets extra bonus points for choosing spiral binding so that the book stays open while I'm cooking. Click here to get your own copy of the book on-line or while you are in Penang.

If You Want to Attend

  • Dinners are the last Saturday of the month and begin at 7:30 p.m. at her Pilau Tikus home
  • View each month's menu at Dine with Pearly as it changes each time
  • Full cost is RM50 per person with a RM10 deposit at booking time
  • Make your booking at the bottom of Pearly's Keep in Touch page.

Related Posts:
Penang Homecooking Class with Pearly Kee
Penang Cooking Schools
Dining Like a Local
Malaysian Dining in Houston, Texas
Mystery Fruit: Dragonfruit

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