Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Writing Process

DSCN4066This blog wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. The stories you’ve read up to now have actually been planned months in advance. I used my time in Brunei to chronicle my journey of leaving New York and to sketched out the progression of this blog. Here is a look at my writing process:

I’m pondering an angle  for a blog entry in my dad’s lab, the best place for me to write… 
However out of the corner of my eye I notice…


DSCN4075Ethyl alcohol right next to my glass of mango juice.


DSCN4072I have an idea…


DSCN4080What if i added the two together?


DSCN3823The alcohol is pretty potent stuff. It’s used to preserve the spiders in my dad’s lab.

WARNING! Do not try this at home kids. Consumption of Ethyl Alcohol leads to blindness and death.


DSCN4079The bottle even comes with a convenient little spout. Just squeeze! Brilliant!


DSCN4082Mmm Yum!


DSCN4086This should help with my writer’s block! Love the spout design. They should bottle beer in this.


DSCN4098(Buzzed) I wonder what’s new on Facebook…


DSCN4101ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz drool… zZZzzzzzz


Brunei Bites: Satay


There is something I love about meat on a stick. There are different variations all over the world but my favorite still has to be satay, meat marinated with lemongrass, shallots, coriander, cumin, turmeric and cinnamon, and grilled over a charcoal fire. In Singapore however you can only get beef, lamb, chicken and if you go to a chinese stall, pork. But in Brunei you can get satay consisting of other animals and also different cuts and parts like the skank or intestines. Delicious.

dscn2942Unfortunately didn’t get a good shot of the main plate which had more variety that on this plate.

dscn2951Charcoal, meat and fat. The ingredients of deliciousness.

dscn2938Ostrich meat!

dscn2955And I’m done

Weird Food: Baby Hammerhead Sharks

DSCN3921Three Hammerhead pups and another baby shark at Jerudong Market in Brunei.

I didn’t think wakeboarding was going to be so hard. All I needed to do was stand right? It’s not like there were skis to keep together. Well for more than an hour my brother and I just floated in the water while waiting for the boat to circle around and pick us up after another failed attempt. We were in a cove 15 minutes by boat from our launch site at Jerudong Market. As my brother climbed aboard so I could go float in the water again, I asked him if he thought that there were sharks in the murky water. It wouldn’t be a problem if I could stand up, but as soon as the boat got going, I would attempt to get up and just lose control and fall. Then I’d trash around to unfasten my feet from the board. Pretty appetizing for a shark huh? My brother just shrugged his shoulders.

A few days later my mom and I went to Jerudong Market to see what the fishermen were bringing in at the end of their day. I think we were a little late as they had offloaded all the fish and their long narrow boats were all tied up together.

We settled for walking around the market and I was surprised to see these hammerhead pups! The fishing boats are small, it’s only wide enough to sit one, they aren’t covered and are propelled by a single outboard motor. I doubt they have much range. These sharks were caught very close to shore, probably near where we were wakeboarding!

But as I looked at these baby sharks I felt pity that they died like this. I mean I don’t mind if someone caught a mature shark to eat. It would have had a chance to reproduce already and contribute to the shark population. But catching these babies just depletes the population at a much faster rate. I wonder if someone would even buy them. I wouldn’t know what part of the shark besides it’s fin would be edible or at least palatable. The sharks weren’t even iced and I read somewhere that shark meat spoils fast as they develop an ammonia like taste once they die.

I don’t like sharks when I dive, well ok I get really excited when I see them, but I’m not going to lie, if I saw a really big one I would be scared shitless. And I’m not going to be a hypocrite to say that I don’t eat shark’s fin, because I do and I find it delicious. But this just seems sad.


Night Life: Kota Kinabalu

DSCN2474It’s a real meat (fish) market

DSCN2415Fresh Fish!

DSCN2420They all look good, even if there is no refrigeration or ice.

DSCN2422A Parrot fish. Isn’t it supposed to be poisonous?

DSCN2423Sting ray = Yummy!

DSCN2467That’s a really long fish.

DSCN2468The most popular fish in the market.



DSCN2433This is want I do to get shots of food. Fish blood, guts and gore on my shorts from the “spray” of the fishmongers. I felt it on my legs too…

DSCN2463Produce section

DSCN2481Langsat, has a subtle grapefruit like taste but is really sweet.

DSCN2488Can you spot the chicken butt?

DSCN2489I love the smell of BBQ at night! (Inhales) Smells like BBQ!

DSCN2490Look at all that food and then multiply it by over a hundred stalls and you will get an idea of what kind of food orgy this place is.

DSCN2494Want some Tomato CATchup? A kitten snoozing next to a pail of ketchup.

Adventures In Borneo: The Island

DSCN2753Manukan Island

The boat pulled next to the jetty at Sutera Resort on Manukan Island and we were greeted by the usual welcome committee. But there was a difference, instead of necklaces of flowers or welcome cocktails, they came bearing pieces of stale bread. And it was the most fun gift I’ve been given at a resort! They were for the hundreds of colorful reef fish gathered below us and I incited a feeding frenzy by throwing the bread into the water.

DSCN2751So many fishy-s

The welcome cocktail was waiting for us at our bungalow. They really think of everything. The cool drink gave a nice reprieve to the heat. I grabbed a quick bite because I was anxious to get diving and wanted time to square away all the gear. But I was told to just go to the jetty, all the gear would be on the boat and I could suit up in transit to the dive sites. Everything was already taken care of, I was assured.

DSCN2754Real al-fresco dining

DSCN2757It’s Marilyn! Lauren’s cat from Brooklyn!

DSCN2758Talk about an open kitchen


DSCN2765Cat: Bite me

DSCN2760Me: You like me now doncha?

DSCN2773A guide getting ready to go into the blue (or turquoise?)

DSCN2774Me: So any sharks? Guide: Nope the coast is clear.

DSCN2780Navigating with a Mark I eyeball

DSCN2781Watching the setting sun while I off gas (= bleeding off nitrogen, not farting.)

DSCN2789The main dining area

DSCN2791Is that for us?

I rolled off the the side of dive boat for the third time today and splashed into the water. I deflated my vest and started to slowly sink, it felt as though the sea was swallowing me. I used to not like night dives as I fear that a shark would sneak up on me and bite me in the ass. Well there was a glimpse of a shark patrolling the reef wall that slopes into the abyss, but he was shy and soon disappeared.

RSCN2911Night Dive

The darkness restricted my vision to the cone of light coming out from my flashlight, the only sound I could hear was my breathing and the rhythmic slow cadence of air purging from my regulator. The sensory deprivation made the dive so peaceful. The only other diver was my guide so it wasn’t a technicolor circus of flashlights and chem sticks. I snuck up upon a slumbering giant turtle and hovered an inch above it. I had to control my breathing, I was so close that if I exhaled too much I would land on the turtle. I was debating to “ride” the turtle by grabbing the sides of its massive shell and letting it pull me along as it woke up and swam. But ecological etiquette finally won out in the end and I decided not to molest it. The denizens of the reef were in a state of transition. The day swimmers were getting ready to bed and the night inhabitants were just shaking off the last vestiges of sleep before going out to look for food.

It was a magical moment.

I came back from the dive hungry and was pleasantly surprised that the resort staff had erected a private dining pavilion for us, complete with our own chef to barbecue for us. Read about that meal here.

DSCN2810The food


DSCN2813The ‘rents

DSCN2836Yay more Langsat!

We came back to the bungalow and to our surprise, a basket of fruit was on the table. I don’t know if the staff at Sutera Manukan Island are indicative of Malaysian people in general, but they really impressed me with their hospitality and attention to the little touches that make a stay so memorable. They were genuinely warm and it was such a contradiction to the tension their government has with Singapore

But I didn’t dwell on that. I slept as soon as my head hit the pillow, exhausted from a full day of diving.

DSCN2851I love how they use charcoal as warmers

DSCN2856Making Roti Prata

DSCN2864Charcoal, like bacon, makes everything taste better

In the morning we had a leisurely breakfast. It was peaceful, there weren’t too many guests who stayed on the island overnight. Most of them are day-trippers. The food was average, but I loved how they used charcoal for everything, especially toasting bread, which picked up the flavor nuances. Even though I place a heavy emphasis on food, I didn’t really care in this case. I had a great time because of the dives and the hospitable resort staff. I rarely go to Malaysia, but after this I think I have to come back.

07.10.08 Sabah 0044Paradise

DSCN2869I don’t want to leave

Adventures in Borneo: The Mountain

DSCN2500Where heaven and earth meet.

It might seem that I pine about leaving New York. I’d always thought it would be my home. Perhaps I don’t express it as often, but there are some things that make it a joy to be back in Asia. Sure there isn’t Per Se or Le Bernardin, but walk down almost any street in Asia and there will probably be something good to eat.

DSCN2519Market at Ranau

On our way to Mount Kinabalu, my family and I stopped by the town of Ranau for gas and lunch. As we were driving around town looking for the gas station, I saw a collection of tents with multiple plumes of smoke rising. I’d seen that familiar configuration before in Brunei and knew I’d find some good food there.

DSCN2521Charcoal Grill = Yum Yum in my belly

My parents settled for KFC, fearing the lack of hygiene standards at the open-air food stalls. I was a little more adventurous and was rewarded with a Ramly Burger, multiple sticks of charcoal grilled chicken butts and a huge skate wing rubbed with a spice blend that is as varied as it is ubiquitous in grilled food at these markets. I wash it all down with a gorgeous drink of evaporated milk, rose and strawberry syrup, unmixed so that the white and red swirled around like drifting wisps of smoke. There were countless other snacks and desserts that went into my belly as I walked about the buffet of delicious food.

DSCN2520Square savory egg crepes?

I’m amazed by the abundance and diversity of food in Asia. I took it for granted when I was growing up here, but I’ve realized that I’ve never seen such a lush profusion of food anywhere else in the world. I wonder if there is a sort of Wallace Line in our culinary geography.

DSCN2522Colorful Drinks! Wish I could try them all

DSCN2524More Drinks

DSCN2526I wonder if they knew about specific gravity before making this.

DSCN2525So many choices

DSCN2527My choice eventually

DSCN2529My chicken butts and skate wing

DSCN2530Delicious little rice flour “cakes” flavored with Pandan and i think baked then fried. So good.

DSCN2567Cross section, see how fluffy it is.

DSCN2534More markets on the road to Mount Kinabalu


DSCN2550Honey and royal jelly

DSCN2554A Kadazan fruit vendor


DSCN2591Its like a mini waterfall

Speaking of the Wallace Line, I’ve realized too, just how much I missed nature and the biodiversity in Asia. The only greenery I saw in New York was on my weekend trips to Prospect Park for soccer and rugby, which is actually more brown in the dead of winter. So stepping into the jungle again was such a heady experience, like tasting the first truffles of the year.

I didn’t want to leave but now I’m looking forward to being back.


DSCN2631Like Ted Nugent, I like dressing in camo. 


DSCN2647Yum! Mushrooms!

DSCN2657Looks inviting but its probably full of leeches.

DSCN2667A large female Trilobite Beetle feasting on cellulose matter of a tree. 

The common name of the Duliticola paradoxa is derived from the strange shape of its larvae which resembles that of the extinct, ancient trilobites. Interestingly, females remain in their larval form and do not undergo a complete metamorphosis when they reach maturity. (Whoa was that a burst of scientific geekness or what!?! Who knew!)

DSCN2668Reminds me of a lobster tail

DSCN2678Langsat, one of my favorite fruits.


DSCN2685A leech, thank god for gutters, socks and boots. They never made it on my skin.

DSCN2714Getting a leech off me

DSCN2717Leeches that I found by my boots where I had my pants bloused in. I hate leeches.

DSCN2720Mount Kinabalu at around 4000m, is the highest point in South East Asia.

DSCN2739Green Bumpy Logans? Had a floral taste and scent, almost like jasmine. Sweeter than the normal logan too.


DSCN2740More Mangosteen

DSCN2747The vividly pink pendulous inflorescences of the Medinilla speciosa coated with little gems of water after a rain.

Not to be a killjoy but I think that it’s important for me to say this. When we were in Ranau, we stumbled upon a little known World War II memorial for British and Australian soldiers that died as prisoners of war though the brutal treatment by their Japanese captors. I was appalled that of the 2,400 Allied POWs, only six survived captivity and the marches from Sandakan to Ranau, a distance of about 260 kilometers through marshland and dense jungle.

These men were captured while defending Singapore. As a Singaporean I’m grateful. I couldn’t imagine going though the hell that they did, not even for their home but someone else’s, mine. As a soldier too, the least I could do was to make sure that their story is never forgotten.

Read more about what happened here:

The Importance of Service

dscn2426Port View Seafood Village

I don’t really care about service. Food is the focus. I will tolerate slow service, put up with inexperienced or worse, incompetent servers if the food is good. I will endure rude or gruff waiters a la Peter Luger’s or like those in your local diner or favorite busy hawker. However looking back at my meal at Thomas Keller’s Per Se I realized that the service was so expert, subtle, warm and comforting that it elevated a superb meal to one that was sublime.

Two meals during my Brunei stay made me reevaluate my preconceived notions of the service-food relationship. They happened within days of each other as my parents and I embarked on a road trip across Borneo from Brunei to Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia.

The first meal was at Port View Seafood Village in Kota Kinabalu. We picked it because it was the closest to our hotel. All we were willing to do was walk no further than across the road after a whole day of traveling.

And in terms of food, I have to admit it was excellent. Every morsel of food was full of fresh flavor and expertly cooked. Sweet scallops were quickly stir-fried to showcase their pristine condition. There was a tender crunch to the huge prawns bursting with flavor. Plump oysters had a veneer of gratin-ed cheese, while the oysters itself was still delectably moist and slippery soft. Soft-shelled crabs were fried crisp yet lusciously juicy inside.

dscn2435Pristine Scallops



dscn2448It’s as big as my hand


dscn2459Fried soft shell crab

The problem was that while the prices of the seafood was very clearly spelled out, the amount you get when you order isn’t. The way the restaurant handled the situation when addressed also wasn’t very kosher. They weren’t cheating but they weren’t ethical. It definitely ruined the mood for dinner, as my mom was pretty upset for being taken for a ride, in fact I don’t think I’ve seen her so upset since I was a kid (and I don’t know anyone as calm as her.)

dscn27871The “Restaurant” at Sutera Resort Manukan Island

Three days later we returned to Kota Kinabalu from Mount Kinabalu. A short boat ride later, we docked at the Sutera Resort jetty on Manukan Island. The clear turquoise water of the South China Sea was too tempting to resist and an hour after stepping on the island I had checked-in, drank my welcome cocktail, gotten a quick bite and was out on a boat again, coasting through Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park to the dive sites. Wanting to cram as many dives in, I added a night dive.

The night dive unfortunately delayed dinner. 

dscn2795Going for my night dive

I was ravenously hungry, which happens every time after I dive, as I walked on the stone path to meet my parents for dinner. And I was pleasantly surprised to see them sitting in a private tent that the resort had set up for us on the beach, illuminated by hurricane lamps with a view of the sea and the soundtrack of lapping waves playing on repeat. We even had our own chef to barbeque our meal. Unfortunately the staff wasn’t told of my night dive and had prepared the food so that it would be ready for us when we came. But we came an hour and a half later than expected, causing the cooked food to sit on a charcoal warmer for the duration of time.

dscn2791Setting up

I still wolfed down the squid, fish and prawns. After looking at fish the whole day I was really craving seafood. The meal as a whole was actually immensely enjoyable. We felt so pampered by the resort staff. I had actually seen them setting up the tent while waiting for the residual nitrogen to bleed off from my body after the day dives, and I was wondering what that was for and it seemed to be a lot of effort. There was an intricate “tablescape” that was an exotic and beautiful garnish to the backdrop of the “restaurant.” Yes the food was overcooked (at least for the first platter, when we got seconds cooked to order it was delicious,) but the level of attention and effort we got from the resort staff more than made up for it. The genuine warm hospitality, which is so rare, made the meal so memorable.

dscn2817Check that tablescape out Sandra Lee!

I don’t go to a restaurant for the service or ambience, but I think I’d return in a heartbeat to Sutera Manukan Island. Would I go back to Port View View Seafood Village? I’m tempted to state an outright no. But the food was really good that it trumped the shady service.

dscn2810BBQ Seafood, Satay and Lamb.

I realize that I haven’t come to a definitive rubric on service. My two examples seem to contradict each other. If anything, my two meals have made me more aware of the role service plays.