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Weekend Road Trip to Bukit Gambang Resort City

Published by on July 23, 2013

My church is organizing a congress / church camp in Bukit Gambang Resort City (BGRC) next month. I’ve been asked to do a treasure hunt en route there, something for the families to occupy their time with along the 3-hour journey. So last weekend I took a recce trip there on Saturday morning and stayed a night there.

To be frank, I’ve never actually heard of BGRC before this. All I knew was that Gambang together with the equally weird sounding Gehbeng were two industrial towns near Kuantan. Back in the day when my parents stayed in Kuantan in the mid-60′s, Gambang used to be a one street town with maybe 2 rows of shoplots. Now they probably have three rows of shoplots.

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So Saturday morning we loaded up the car and drove off. Travelling eastwards for us is trickier than going north or south, we need to circle the city along the MRR2. Traffic was good though, reached Gombak toll in good time and on to the Karak highway. The entire journey from my place to Gambang takes more than two and a half hours, so i thought it was important to take it slow and enjoy the journey.

At Karak, we exited the highway and went into town for lunch. Karak is a small non-descript town, famous since the 70′s for the highway that runs through it rather than the town itself. In the previous years, the jam exiting the highway during holidays is legendary. Thankfully these days, the East Coast Highway joins the Karak Highway seamlessly without you having to go through the town.

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What’s good to eat in Karak? A lot, apparently, but today we’re trying this famous restaurant called Yik Kee.

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They are famous for their durian puff and durian tarts. They own a branch in TTDI and Sri Karak in PJ.

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Lunch was their duck noodles and fish paste noodles (yee wat sang mein). The latter was really good.

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My wife tried the fresh prawn noodle (sang har sang mein).

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Pricing is very steep even by KL standards.

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Then onto the East Coast Highway for more tarmac time. Then a welcome sight.

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Strange building in Gambang. I think its a swallow farm.

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Aaaaand after a short drive off the highway, we reach the resort.

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The resort isn’t big, so its easy to navigate. First you pass the more upmarket Arabian Bay. then you see the Caribbean Bay where we stayed. Opposite Caribbean Bay is the active park where you can play paintball, flying fox, et al.

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A little further in you will find the water park and safari.

We stayed in the standard 2 room apartment. It’s quite satisfactory, pretty clean and big. But one complaint, though. Why no sofa set?

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After a short rest we went down to the safari. Didn’t go for the water park. this is the view of the water park from the hill.

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The safari tickets (both day and night safari combo) costs RM38 for adults and RM18 for kids.

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The safari consists of a bus ride around the park for about 40 mins, driving through the animal enclosures. To be honest, it wasn’t worth the price, even at the discounted rate. Most of the areas are still under construction, and most of the animal enclosures were disappointing. Like for the elephants, there was only one baby elephant. I really hope no Thai tourists get to see this.

After the park we went back for dinner. we were the first people at the restaurant. As you can see the food is all still shrink wrapped. The food here is good, maybe a little spicy for some folks.

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After dinner, we went back to the park for a walk in the night safari. If you are expecting ‘night safari’ like Singapore or Chiang Mai, or even Taiping, you’ll be severely disappointed.

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On the plus side, there are two shows to watch throughout the day. There’s a pretty short animal show (the show was short, not the animals).

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Again, if you are expecting Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary or KL Birdpark animal show, you will be… never mind.

Again, if I’m being honest, I’d still recommend Farm in the City as a better (and cheaper) alternative.

Later on there’s a fire show.

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A little disappointed nothing or no one got burnt.

The next morning the kids went for swimming while we slept in.

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This is the small gym. Didn’t feel like working out here so I brought my shoes for nothing.

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Last meal before leaving the resort. Lunch was pretty good as with all the meals here.

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Just before going off, we checked out the Arabian resort. Whoooooaaa! this is so much better than our resort…!

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Then it was another 2 and a half hours of hard driving back to the valley. A short trip, but good one.

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Tennis Greats from Yesteryears

Published by on July 12, 2013

Watching Andy Murray win the Wimbledon last weekend, I got more than a few glimpses of the great Ivan Lendl, his coach, in the stands. Lendl looks pretty much the same as I remember him from the 80′s, maybe a few pounds heavier.

It was probably my dad who got me started on tennis. My brother watched a little too, he didn’t like Lendl. In retrospect, its easy to see why, with his sawdusting and boring groundstrokes. My brother much preferred the young upstart Boris Becker. Those days, there were lots of tennis greats, Mats Wilander, Jimmy Connors (“can’t top-spin a ball to save his life” according to my brother), Mecir (I remembered he came to play an exhibition match here) and Jarryd. McEnroe was on the wane when I started watching, and Andre Agassi still had long blond hair and wore denim shorts at the US Open. Players like Sampras, Courier and Hewitt came a little later.

But by and large, my favourite tennis star was Stefan Edberg. I mean, every stroke he played was stylish. And he seemed like a nice guy in his demeanour and interviews, unlike McEnroe or Natase. Those days there was a one hour show called ATP something where they show interviews and tour matches around the globe. Another reason why i liked him was how he sliced every serve, and my tennis coach pointed out that Edberg used the Continental grip, similar to my style.

Oh yes, I had a tennis coach.

My dad got me started on tennis lessons from a guy called Allan, not sure how we got to know him. Every Thursday night for about 2 hours under the floodlights at the LLN tennis court, he taught me with a group of kids of varying levels of competency how to serve, volley, top spin, etc. i guess he was a much better player than he was a teacher. After about half a year I guess we stopped the classes, probably my parents realized it was a luxury we couldn’t afford.

So with the limited lessons, i continued playing through university. It was by accident my best friend in uni was a good tennis player, having competed at school level. It was easy to book courts in uni because every college had at least two courts. My friend told me that i was probably the third best player in my class, which was high praise considering how good the top two were.

Remembering Wong Ka Kui and Beyond

Published by on July 4, 2013

Last Sunday marked 20 years since Wong Ka Kui died in a freak stage accident in Japan.

In terms of being a fan, I was very late in catching on. But at least it was when he was still alive. I was introduced to him by my university friends during our many karaoke trips after exams. They loved his songs, and borrowing some of their cassettes, I was soon introduced to this foursome band from Cantopop land in Hong Kong.

Cantopop in those days was filled with singers belting out schmaltzy ballads, most of them undistinguishable from the next. Don’t get me wrong. There are some gifted singers. But if in terms of standing against the flow of conformity, there was only one band, called Beyond.

It did help that they rocked a little harder than their counterparts, while still playing the ballads. But they wrote great songs about individuality, a somewhat foreign concept in the Chinese psyche back in those days.

One day I heard it on the radio about his accident. I rushed on over to my pal’s room, this guy was the biggest Beyond fan I knew. He was taking it quite well. “Wah, you also heard about it ar?” was his wry reply when I told him. This was a simpler time without the internet and SMS.

Well, after the next the exam ended, we went down to the karaoke and belted all his famous hits as a tribute to Ka Kui.
大地.
喜欢你.
灰色轨迹.
Amani.
光輝歲月.
And of course, my favourites, 真的爱你 and 海闊天空.

***

One day back home on holiday, I asked my brother if he had heard of Beyond. “Yes, I know them. What’s so special about them?” was his reply. Of course, this coming from a guy heavily schooled in Clapton, the Police and Dire Straits.

My reply was, “but in terms of everyone else in Cantopop, aren’t they a world apart?”

He could only say, “Well, yes.”

Buying Rice the Old Fashion Way

Published by on April 27, 2013

My family hardly eats any rice, we only buy brown rice for the kids. But i know how the drill is about buying rice, whether brown or white. We go to Tesco, or whichever hypermarket having a sale, but most of the time it was Tesco. We’d go to the rice aisle, pick the brand on sale from the choice of the few we usually buy from. If it was white rice, it was most of the time Dragon Pearl. Nowadays with brown rice, it is usually ecoBrown.

Since our rate of consumption is slow, we go for the 5kg. Back in those days my kids were small and we didn’t have a bathroom scale, i’d estimate my children’s weight in comparison to the bag of 5kg rice (a few years ago, i redeemed a bathroom scale from Bonuslink).

But one day, stuck in the traffic jam, it occured to me that wasn’t how we bought rice when we were small.

Back then, my mom bought rice from the sundry shop near my house. Sundry shops sold, um, all and sundry in those days – stationery, snacks, toys, books, and even some hardware. Outside the shop, in a large gunny sack sitting on the floor was a mound of rice. It was usually next to other gunny sacks containing dried chillies, onions and other grains we never bought.

If you wanted to buy rice, the shopkeeper, usually an old thin guy wearing grey or khaki belted shorts and a white singlet (sometimes rolled up to his torso, depending on how old he was), would open up a paper bag. This paper bag was usually made out of brown paper or newspaper, glued at the bottom with starch made from rice. It’s a miracle how starch can hold such a heavy load.

The shopkeeper would ask u how much u wanted, you’d say the price, or the weight, like 2 katis. What a kati? Dunno, but its 16 tahils. If you were Cantonese you’d say ‘kun’, rhymes with ‘bun’. Then shopkeeper would used a metal scoop and dished the rice from the sack to the paper bag. There was no grade to the rice, no Super AA or Jasmine white rice or any of that. We only knew it came from Thailand.

Then you would pay the shopkeeper and he’d seal the bag of rice. Then you would carefully carry the bag of rice home, to eat for the next few weeks.

Writing this evokes a lot of memories about rice and its link to Chinese society the world over. Rice symbolises livelihood, rezeki. I remember old Hong Kong period dramas that show a poor boy tripping and spilling a bag of rice on the ground meant the greatest tragedy.

Roger Ebert

Published by on April 6, 2013

Whenever i finish reading a book, or after watching a movie, or a particular good season of a TV show, i am compelled to go online to read the reviews. Some people like to read reviews before, i like to see what other people, including experts thought, and whether or not they agree with me.

For movies, there are only two review sites i read – Empire Online, and Roger Ebert. There used to be a few more, especially those that used to listed in Yahoo! Movies. For some strange reason, they’ve done away with this critics’ reviews and replaced it with user reviews.

I like Empire’s reviews, but of late they’ve been patchy. And the thing with Empire is that they usually only do a handful of full reviews a month, other movies only get a short 2-3 paragraphs. What’s up with that, Empire? You’re supposed to be a MOVIE magazine.

And as for Roger Ebert, i think i’ve been reading his reviews since i started using the internet back in the 90′s. his style is immediately likeable – he knows his movies and movie-making. He is witty, sarcastic when necessary, and funny. And he is efficient – every major release is reviewed. He puts his best into every review, no phoning it in. You can read the archives of his reviews from the 70′s and 80′s, they still hold up the test of time.

Some years ago i learnt he lost his jaw to cancer, but it didn’t stop him from his work. In recent years i noticed he started slowing down on his work, more and more movies were not reviewed.

And a couple of days ago, i heard the inevitable news, Ebert has died.

Sad day, indeed. One of the obituaries mentioned he was the last of his generation of newspaper columnist that cut their teeth in the bygone era of print newsroom. For he, he was the one movie reviewer. There is no one else.

What Comes After ‘WYY’?

Published by on March 10, 2013

When i was small toddler starting to learn my alphabet, i noticed the new cars in town had licence plates that started with JAA. Older cars like my mom’s Fiat 146 had only two letters, JH. Even older cars had only the letter J followed by the numbers, but these were rare even in my time. In my small town we could see new cars with newly minted plates quite often, as back in those days, Muar was one of only 2 towns in the state with an RIMV (JPJ) office. The other was the state capital JB far far away. I distinctively remember asking my parents about these car registration plates once, probably as a pre-schooler.

‘What comes after JY 9999?’
‘JAA 1′

‘Why not JZ?’
‘Coz Z is reserved for the military.’

‘So what comes after JAY9999?’
‘Well, you change the 2nd letter, so it will be JBA.’

‘And when we reach… er… JYY?’
‘Then we add another letter at the end to be JAAA and start the cycle again.’

I remember thinking it was a pretty cool system, probably impressed more with the novelty of it rather the logistics of it all. Perhaps, not even my parents envisaged when the time would come for that to happen, maybe because people like us didn’t think that much about the future or stuff like traffic congestion or novelty number plates. It was all in the hazy future.

Fast forward more than 30 years ahead, the our capital city KL is now approaching that milestone. The current plate is past WYA, and it will probably reach WYY9999 in a few months. Next should be WAAA, next? Should be no problem, right?

Well, for a couple of reasons, it may not be so. For one, its too long. Secondly, the first ‘A’ in the plate will be insignificant for the next 20+ plus years, maybe less considering our increasing affluency, but a very long time nonetheless. Maybe it isn’t a big problem to JPJ! And they will still stick to the system, or maybe they will devise another system.

Well, if you ask me, theres a simple solution. Pick another alphabet. Start with F1 or G1 or something. They’ll make tons and tons money auctioning off these 9999 plates, like they did with the WWW series. Nobody has an affinity to the W letter, anyway, if refers to an archaic designation for KL which no one uses anymore (‘Wilayah Persekutuan’).

7 Seasons of 30 Rock

Published by on February 15, 2013

These past few years I don’t really watch many shows due to lack of time. Gone are the days when i can follow up to ten weekly shows plus anime series. These days i can only do a handful, and only if they are highly recommended.

One of the holdovers from those earlier days is the comedy 30 Rock. I just watched the series finale, bringing and end to seven seasons. Lets face it, 30 Rock is not popular. No one else i know watches it, let alone appreciates it. One friend even asked me after watching a few episodes in season 1, “Funny meh?”

Yes, i found 30 Rock funny. For the first few seasons, in my opinion one of the smartest show on TV. I just love how they bring sitcom humour to a higher level, and all the inside jokes about TV industry. But sadly, just like all good shows, this one jumped the shark. I’m not particularly sure when, i there was a point when Jenna’s weekly shenanigans started to become more and more unbelievable, and Tracy Jordan become even more annoying (that was one character i never liked from day one).

All i know was the last 3 seasons i lost the urge to watch it, but i kept on going until the end, cos at its worst it was still one of the best sitcoms on TV.

So it has ended, the finale as irreverent as the series always has been. Ive been told quite a few new shows match up to the standard created by 30 Rock – Parks & Recreations, Modern Family and Arrested Development. I didn’t find Parks & Recreation funny at all, just a little annoying. Maybe one day I’ll start on the other two.

Meanwhile, the Big Bang Theory and 2 Broke Girls are still on my watch list.

Insect Spray

Published by on January 12, 2013

When I was really small, I remember my mom used an insect spray that looked like this.

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You pumped the handle like a Nerf gun, and the spray came out. But then they introduced the tall thin canister spray we are familiar with now. The only difference was the earlier types had this white plastic button on top with the nozzle, and each time you used it, the oily spray would get onto your fingers and hands. If you didn’t wash your hands after, you’d be ingested all the yummy nutritious poison.

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See how close the nozzle is to your finger?

It was only recently they introduced the type with the yellow plastic cap, still in use now. I remember the earlier models were quite flimsy, the pressdown part kept breaking off.

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My home town had a chronic mosquito problem due to the poor drainage system (it still does) so mosquito is a major problem. We had to spray the entire house in the mornings and evenings before sweeping out all the dead mozzies on the floor. (When that mosquito zapping racket craze first started it was a huge seller in my town)

I remember my mom kept two types of insect sprays – a regular type, usually Mortein, Shelltox or Ridsect (nowadays Shelltox is called Shieldtox). We also had a can of the green coloured Baygon. Why two? Coz the regular types like Ridsect are only good for killing tiny insects like ants and mozzies. For cockroaches, you need to whip out the more toxic Baygon. Even the sound of the Baygon makes is more impressive, a deeper drone. These days any brand can kill roaches. Not sure about centipedes, though.

Over the years I seen people use lots of alternatives – roach traps, bug zappers (popular in Malay restaurants), Combat roach poison (works as well as alien detectors), etc but nothing works as effective as insect sprays. I know they’re toxic if inhaled and burn a hole in the ozone layer, but i don’t wanna get dengue.

My 2012 in 9 Points

Published by on January 6, 2013

I started this annual thing a few years back (see 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008 here) and its only fitting to do one for the just concluded year.

In summary, 2012 has been a transitional year for me, and also a year of great financial implications. I changed jobs twice (you can imagine how i have to explain to friends why) and bought two properties while disposing of another. So you can have a picture of all the dealings with bankers and lawyers. But don’t get me wrong. It has been a blessed and fulfilling year. I had ample time to enjoy the things i love – church, time with my family, reading, art, and at the same time worked with one of the best bosses i’ve ever had.

But so, my 2012 in 9 points.

1. Stephen

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Its hard to start an introspective with this. I had only gotten to know his much better only in the last 6-7 years, mostly through the wonderful times spent at his place preparing for Project Timothy, and Project Philosophy before that. Whenever i think of him, i always picture him smiling, asking us “Did Paul really say that?”

2. The Queen

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Most people will remember Will and Kate’s all too brief appearance here, but the star of the Royals was the Queen’s performance at the London Olympics opening ceremony. Great to know she has an amazing sense of humour, not to mention a deadpan acting style.

3. Ko Lipe

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My definition of an island paradise. No roads, no cellphone coverage, just an tiny island of resorts populated by European tourists. For 5 days, it was swimming, island hopping, kayaking, reading in the shade, snoozing on the beach, and eating the best Italian food this side of the continent. I can hear the island calling me again.

4. Gap Month

Between jobs, i took a month off from work, after 5 years at my previous posting. You can read more about what i did here. Sure, most of you have had much longer holidays, but this was a record for me. And i enjoyed every minute of it.

5. Changes

Related to the above, yes, i quit my job of five years. I had a great job, great colleagues, so it was a little tough to leave it all. But sure, new challenges and all, i left. To what seemed like a dream job. But right smack on the first day of the new job, i found out it was not what i agreed on. But i tried to make the best of the situation. I tried for 5 months, while a lot more started to unravel.

So finally quit. A few days before my last day, i finally found out the real story about how this mess came to be. Regrettable, but I’m not one for regrets. We live, learn, move on. And i did.

6. Chiang Mai

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Big holiday for a big family. Probably the last one for a long time for us. You can read the itinerary here.

7. Four More Years

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Despite all the reports and opinion polls leading to the elections, i never had any doubt that Obama would win. Who could actually take Mitt Romney seriously? Other than hardcore Republicans, that is. Congrats and good luck, president elect.

8. Of Houses and Homes

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And i bought a new place for my family. It will be ready more than a year from now. Its a huge financial commitment for me, so austerity will be the order of the day for the family for the next few years. The very same week i signed for the house, i bought another apartment for investment. I had to let go another excellent investment opportunity to make this happen, but that’s how life is sometimes.

9. And Still Reading

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And still at it, about 50 books in 2012. Finally finished GRRM’s ‘A Dance with Dragons’. Bought and read lots of art and painting books. Best book i read last year? Probably one of the 30 year old Earthsea books. I need to read more recent books.

Chiang Mai 2012 Day 7 & 8: The Last Days

Published by on December 30, 2012

This the last entry in my traveloguem to start from the beginning, read here.

Ok, let me finish off this travelogue before the year ends, it has been more than a month since the trip.

Day 7 marks the end of a week in Northern Thailand. Today, we drove off to Mae Taeng Elephant camp. This is more than an hour’s drive outside the city. The last trip here in 2005 we went to Maesa Elephant Park, which is much much nearer compared to Mae Taeng, but Calvin our guide says that Mae Taeng being surrounded by the jungle, is a better elephant camp. Besides, he says that the new owner of Maesai is ‘very arrogant’.

My verdict is that, yeah, Mae Taeng has a more rustic and rural feel, the elephant ride takes you through the jungle waist high in the river (elephant’s waist, not yours).

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But i’d say Maesai had a better show than here, but you can’t help to feel sorry for the majestic animals in these shows, no matter how well they are treated. But on the upside, the elephants are much better behaved than some of the kiasu China tourists were encountered there.

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But one of the highlights of the experience was getting up close and personal with a 2 month baby elephant… Quite cute and playful. But elephants don’t stay that way long, after another few more months they mature into the slow, lumbering behemoths we all identify them with.

The kids were very much looking forward to the elephant ride, but unfortunately the first available ride was another 90minute wait, due to a large group of tourist that came before us. So we decided to pass on it, much to their disappointment… but we promised another better experience next – Tiger Kingdom!

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There is no entrance fee to the place. However, you need to pay to have your photo taken for 10 mins with the tigers. There are 4 price categories, corresponding to the size of the tigers – smaller being more expensive. (This was a little difficult to explain why to my daughter). Unfortunately, it was more disappointment for the kids. :( This is was pretty expensive, even with only the kids entering (with at least one adult). But there was a viewing deck near the largest (cheapest) cats where we can only watch OTHER people play with them…

Overall, i suppose this was a great experience if you don’t mind paying the fee. I just felt the owners were milking the cats (not literally milking) for maximum profit, and i didn’t like the way the guides encourage people to lie down on tigers, lift up their tails, etc. And they were quite snarky with us when explaining the prices, too.

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So we then moved on to something that promised no disappointments – LUNCH! Calvin brought us to his favourite makan shop, akin to our Chinese coffeeshop. They didn’t have pad thai, but they served local noodles that was tasty.

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We also tried this coffee place round the corner, run by the British Council. Free Wifi!

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After lunch we went to Warorot Market. It’s an indoor market selling dry goods and foodstuff.

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Calvin knows this lady here selling cheap snacks, and also she’s probably the only person in town who speaks perfect Cantonese. We bought some snacks and dried fruit to take home.

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I then asked Calvin to bring me inside the old city to this bookstore that sells art stuff.

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Wasn’t difficult to find, it’s right next to the UN Irish Pub. In terms of oil painting supplies, they are much better than the average KL store. They have a few local brands, and international brands including Rembrandt (which i have yet to find in Malaysia).

Then we went back to the hotel to sleep it off while the kids did the pool thing.

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The glow of the night market from my hotel room.

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For dinner we went back to the same place 2 nights ago, for more chicken rice, fried chicken, sticky mango rice and pad thai.

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After dinner we took the long drive back. Calvin brought us to the flower market and fruit market.

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At night, the road outside Warorot market transforms into a food market.

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After eating even more stuff, we went back to the night market. There’s this place where artist do their stuff, i remember this place from my last visit. Most of them use the dry brush method.

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These guys are so talented it makes me wanna give up painting :)

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So ends another long day in CM. The next morning, we manage one last round of shopping at Tesco Lotus, before our flight. Our last meal in CM.

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Well, so ends 8 days in and around Northern Thailand. Great memories, great company. Until the next time, if we ever return.

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