Monday, January 24, 2011

On Sweet Thai Cuisine Seremban

We went to the second Thai Restaurant on our list. The one I have listed as "Thai Restaurant Seremban Location: near the Blossom Food Court on Jalan Tok Ungku." It is on Jalan Tok Ungku but look for the sign "Restoran Thai Food" on the same side as the Blossom Food Court.

The waitress suggested we try the Chicken Mee noodles, the fried Rice and for fish she suggested a fried fish instead of steamed. We went with her suggestions. The food was fantastic!!! After we finished our meal and the big mess was left on the table, I realized I forgot to snap a shot of the food before we started, oh well next time. There will be a next time because R loved the place (he was highly skeptical before we went)... he particularly liked the Mee noodles. This place was better, we think, than the other Thai place near our house (on Rasah Jaya near Rasah Jaya Food Court) the food had more ingredients mixed in and more layered flavors. But we love Thai so we should try the other place again and also keep our eyes out for more places... if you blink you can miss these places around here.

On Sweet Thai Cuisine
1978, Gorund Floor, Bukit Blossom
70100 Seremban

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Birds of Paradise

Here is the third variety of Birds of Paradise in our front landscaping. This one is the least delicate looking.

Inspiration for the Second Guest Bedroom Color

We have been thinking about what color to paint the second Guest Room on the main floor (formerly the Maid's Room). We have so much grey in the house, we are thinking about a very dark blue color. The photo below shows the Nippon colors but the photo doesn't depict the color really well. The samples are actually darker. We will have to do a test color because blue is a tricky color to work with. Basically, we want very dark walls to make the room cozy and so we can put up a bunch of small artworks which will stand out on top of the dark color. Colors we are favoring Wira Blue 471 and Seclusion Blue 201A.

The images above come from photos we took at the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion otherwise known as the Blue Mansion in Penang when R and I stayed there a few years ago (on our first trip to Malaysia). It is truly one of my favorite hotels in the world (not the most comfortable, but the one with a lot character and charm). Anyway, I was thinking all along about painting a room the blue mansion blue, I even contacted them to find out the color awhile back. They let me know it is called indigo but it is the special process that they use with the plaster that gives the color its multi-layer depth. I love this color, but think our room needs to go deeper.

David Lynch's Blue Room

Twilight Tones Article in Ideal Home Magazine (UK)'s February 2011 issue has some ideas on Blue

Rambutan Tree

The large Rambutan Tree on our property has Rambutan pods (?) growing on its branches!!!!

I found them because I was seeing empty green pods on the ground near the mango tree for the past few days so I searched around for them. I guess an animal has been pulling them off the tree and opening and eating the unripe fruit down on the ground.

Can't wait to pick the stem off the tree when the fruit is ripe and try our own Rambutan!

Door Trim

Our House has metal framed doors throughout the interior of the house (and a couple wood frames in our Home Office). I've seen this same type of metal door in the middle east as well. The metal is painted a glossy forest green, we suppose that the previous owner chose green because it goes with the green metal window frames. But the dark green around the doors is ugly and since the doors and frames aren't always perfect and the paint job isn't perfect, the green stands out like a sore thumb. So we plan to re-paint the frames a neutral and somewhat light grey color.

Right now we are thinking about going with Venus 1406 a pre-mixed Nippon 9000 Gloss Finish color which is 102 RM for 5 liters which works on both metal and wood. The one room this won't look that good with is the Guest Bedroom, pictured above which is a medium grey color. Although I think the light grey trim will look good with the white walls throughout the rest of the house as well as the dark brown in our Master Bedroom. As the green is really getting annoying, we can at least paint the doors of the rooms that the walls have already been painted and finish the rest once the walls are all complete.

Dragon Dance in Seremban

I persuaded R to go to Pertubuhan Penganut Dewa Seremban with me to check out the kick off of the Chinese New Year celebrations. By time we arrived, the place was already full. It is beautiful at the Chinese Temple at night, the temple lit in the background with gold lights seeping out of the doors and the smoke coming from various places giving the temple a foggy red atmosphere. Here is a video of a dragon dance performed by a number of young men.

As I wrote before, Pertubuhan Penganut Dewa Seremban is just a few blocks from my house. Perched at the top of the hill in the Blossom section of Seremban (off Jalan Tok Ungku).

Friday, January 21, 2011

Upstairs Family Room

It is time to start thinking about what to do with the living space on the second floor of our house. Malaysian's call this room the "Family Room". The room gets really hot because of the many windows, especially the long windows in the front of the house. These windows slide open, but during the day that usually makes the room hotter because the sun shines right in. Keeping them closed is better because the windows have a light sunblocker material on them. So, even though we have put a York air conditioner and Panasonic ceiling fan in the room, we don't plan to sit in there much during the day.

The room and ceiling hasn't been painted yet and is currently a very pale green tint, we will most likely go with bright white by Nippon. Maybe an accent grey color on the large window wall (not too dark) only.

I have been looking for sofa sets for this room but really can't find anything. I am liking the ads that I am seeing in international magazines that are showing cushions or low-type couches with lots of pillows. Someplace to just lounge around. So I brought up one of the living room cushions and a couple pillows to see if a low cushion formation might work. It seems to work fine and looks good as this room leads to our Home Office. I have taken measurements and am going to go back to Ikea because I saw some long grey cushions that were about the size of twin beds (not that I want more grey, but will take it if it is all they have and then use some kind of bright big pillows to accentuate). I think we will need 4 of these big couch cushions (which are actually longer than the couch cushion I brought from the living room) placing two along the wall under the air conditioner and two under the long window.

I also brought out a large piece of brown laminate that I had to mark the floor path to see if a coffee table in the middle of the room would work or if it would block the traffic pattern into the home office. No, it doesn't but it should be bigger and still it wouldn't be useful really because it is too far from the cushions to set your glass on or use it. Often times in home magazines especially contemporary homes I see these big spaces with two sofas and a coffee table in between them and there is so much space, it seems useless to me. So maybe two very long 8 foot by 18 inch very low coffee tables running in front both sofa cushions might look nice, be something different and actually useable to set books on, your drink, laptop, etc. They could be made out of wood/laminate or maybe glass. From what I can tell, there would still be enough walking space in the center of the room to get to the office. OK it all depends on finding the cushions.

Below are some examples of Mah Jong Sofas by Roche-Bobois which are low cushion seating configurations. Although these have a nice back rest and mine will only have big pillows...

Pertubuhan Penganut Dewa Seremban

In keeping with our goal of trying to visit places in and around Seremban (although this place was not on our list). Today I went to the Chinese Temple just a few blocks from my house. Perched at the top of the hill in the Blossom section of Seremban (off Jalan Tok Ungku) Pertubuhan Penganut Dewa San Kau Tong was being decorated for the Chinese New Year.

The man in the office told me that they will be having celebrations every night between now and the New Year so I will try to get R to come with me at night when they will have dragon and tiger dances!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Property and Land Taxes in Malaysia

If you are wondering what the property and land taxes are related to a house here in Malaysia, they are low compared to the US and many other places.

There are two types of property ownership in Malaysia Leasehold and Freehold. Leasehold is when you lease the land for a period of time often 99 years and then it is renewable [or not] at the end of the lease. The other is Freehold where you own the property outright. We prefer Freehold and were lucky to find a freehold property we like and could afford. For more info on freehold/leasehold check here. By the way, most properties available in KL are leasehold. Foreigners can own either Freehold or Leasehold.

There are two main costs associated with property and land ownership in Malaysia. One is called the Assessment Tax which is a tax generated twice a year by the local Majlis Perbandaran where the property is located. Assessment tax is collected by the local authorities for the 'provision of services to the residents'. The amount and classification of properties varies from state to state and within the state. In most states the amount of the assessment tax a house owner pays is calculated on the annual value of the of the property and the annual value of the property is the total value of rents if the house is rented out in the open market. If this sounds confusing, I agree. If you want more info. you better do some googling.

The other payment is for the Quit Rent (rent is a deceiving word here) which is generated in our case by the Kerajaan Negeri Sembilan Darul Khusus. This is a once a year payment. From what I understand, Quit Rent is a form of land tax collected by the Malaysian State Governments. It is imposed on owners of all land. The amount of the quit rent varies from state to state and even within each state. For more info. check here.

The Mail (POS) is so unreliable, we have not received either bill which were supposed to arrive before or just at the beginning of the year. So yesterday I went to both offices and paid my current bills.

Our bungalow has a Quit Rent cost of 218 RM per year and a Assessment cost of 780 RM total per year. The total costs related to the state in regard to our home per year is 998 RM (about $327 US Dollars). This sure is better than to $4,700 US dollars I was paying in New York (worse the current owner now pays $8,800 US dollars on the same house as it was reassessed)!

Malaysian Paus (or Chinese Steamed Buns)

After my trip to the Egg Store near my house, I was walking towards my car when I noticed there was a shop with their gate partially open so I looked in. There was some kind of food preparation going on, so I asked the guy who came over what they were making. He took the cover off the carton above and showed me. I asked what they were and he told me the white ones are Red Bean and the green ones are Pandan Lotus. I asked him if he would sell me some of the pandan lotus and he said yes, even though this looked more like the bakery than a retail store. I asked him how to cook it and he said to "Steam them over water for 15 minutes".

So I took four Pandan Lotus home and attempted to steam them. I placed them at the bottom of my wok after taking off the white paper at the bottom of the Pandan Lotus. And I added about 1/4 inch of water at the bottom of the wok and turned the heat on then covered it for 15 minutes.

As anyone who has actually steamed these things before knows, my method would prove disastrous. Just wrong. The Pandan Lotus became these gooey mushy messes at the bottom of the wok. I still scraped them out and attempted to eat them, but they were raw-ish. So I got out the package I had in the freezer of Pau Mini Pandan Kaya to check how they should be prepared as I thought they looked to be the same item or similar (as these were frozen, the directions when I used them before was to microwave in plastic wrap which I had did). Well, the package just said to "Steam" them like the guy at the bakery.

So a little research online and I found these Paus can also be considered Chinese Steam Buns. And I found some videos and sites describing how to steam them. For example check here: Looks like I need to get one of these steamers to heat the Paus. Also, I could use the steamer for vegetables too. By the way, the inside of the Pau I bought at the bakery are Lotus and the package above is Kaya which is coconut based. The inside of both taste really good. I should also look for this Lotus or Kaya Paste which I might be able to use for baking.

Dental work in Malaysia

Dental is usually not covered on your insurance plan here in Malaysia. And in our case it is not, so we have to pay out of pocket.

I just went through the experience of having a ceramic crown put on one of my upper back teeth recently. The experience was like this.... in October we were referred by an expat living in Seremban to go to a certain dentist in Seremban who is known here to be the ‘best’ and also most expensive (don’t want to cut costs here). The two dentist office (a father and son) were schooled overseas. The dentist we went to graduated from a California dental school and is currently a member of the American Dental Association and Calfornia State Licensed Dental Surgeon (many dentists here are trained outside of Malaysia but it is less common for them to continue to hold licenses overseas, I think). The office reception room looked like it was still in the 70s but the work rooms had new equipment and it was extremely clean. R and I went for our teeth cleaning which was 125 RM per person. The job was fine, no pain and, well, good enough. Better than the experiences I had in the middle east. The dentist also took an xray of my bad tooth which cost 85 RM.

We scheduled the tooth work for the beginning of January. So when I went back recently, the dentist took off the existing crown and made an imprint for the new tooth. He put on a temporary tooth which was white on the exposed part and some blue plastic material on the inside and told me the crown would be ready in one week. One day later the blue had fallen out and I was back there to get it replaced; I thought this blue material was very cheap and I felt like I couldn't bite on that side of my mouth for the whole replacement process. The day the crown was ready I went back and he attempted to put it in, but it didn't fit and I noted it was too dark in color as well. So another one had to be made. This took another week during which I had to wear another temporary crown. Anyway, I went back on Tuesday and he put the new crown in and it looks good and feels ok so far. He surprised me and said he was going to guarantee it for one year. The whole procedure cost 1,500 RM for a nice looking white molded ceramic crown.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Cost of Eggs in Malaysia

I wanted to write a post on the cost of eggs here in Malaysia. So I photographed the egg carton which is the eggs I recently bought at Family Store for 3.80 RM. The eggs cartons here come with 10 not 12 eggs per pack. So I always find myself running short faster because the 10 carton looks almost like a dozen. Then there is the size of Malaysia eggs. In stores like Family Store and Jusco, they all look about the same and run from high 3 RM to nearly 5 RM for the 10. I never bother to look at the package too well and so I missed on the package above for the LH Egg brand that these are medium size eggs. And medium they are. Both R and I have commented in the past on how small the eggs are sometimes. No only for LH Brand but Malaysian Eggs in general.

So I went back to Family Store looking for Large eggs and couldn't find any carton that were marked "Large". Although this Happy Egg brand lists CLASS A on the package so I thought they might be bigger, and they are "lower cholesterol". This is up a step from LH's marketing of "No Harmful Residues"! But the price is higher at 4.20 RM.

First one more stop before I made this post to a storefront within walking distance of my house.... Yoong Sing Trading Shop selling fresh eggs. The guy there was very nice and told me these eggs come from Melacca.

He has them all Graded and the Grade A eggs cost 3.40 RM for 10. So I bought 10 of them.

He also talked me into testing 2 of these white eggs at .50 RM each as he said they are, "The best!" I asked why but he couldn't give me an answer. I asked him if they were chicken eggs and he nodded, but I'm not sure he understood me for sure. Their slightly elongated length makes me wonder if they are some other type of egg. And I wonder, are they costing more because they are white in color? In the states, the brown cost more as white are the common stock. Here, brown are the common eggs. I will have to try them for taste and report back.

Egg on Left from Yoong Sing Trading, Egg in Center Happy Egg, Egg on Right LH Egg

In terms of size though, Yoong Sing Trading' s Grade A Egg above is the largest in size of the three brands and is the lowest price. LH Egg is clearly the loser. I've learned all eggs are not the same around here and going to the specialty store is worth the extra time.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and an attempt at Sustainable Living in Malaysia

I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s 2008 book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.) right now about how she and her family left Arizona and moved to their farm in Virginia to try and grow their own foods and buy the remaining items only from local sources. The book reminds me that when we made an offer on this house our plan was to turn the narrow backyard space into a vegetable, herb and fruit garden so that we could grow some of our own foods and to live a somehow sustainable lifestyle in Malaysia for the two of us. While we waited for the sale of the house to go through I read all about Permaculture and read up on Tropical Gardening as best I could; I spent nights laying awake planning out the garden! And in the end, Gardening along with all the environmental green products we wanted to put in the house- wind power, solar energy, recycling, composting have all had to be re-thought/adapted for different reasons.

Well, immediately after moving in, we found out that the back right area of the house, exactly where the vegetable garden was going to go was right above where the sewage pipes flowed out of the house. So that idea was shot down. Yeah we thought maybe we could make planters above ground for the vegetables, but my experience is that vegetables never grow as well in above ground containers... maybe we will revisit this idea in the future because after scoping out the entire property during the landscaping process, we determined that there really is no good place for a vegetable garden on the property (due to our our neighbor’s tanks, sewage lines and our own spectic tank which is in the front corner of the property near the Bamboo plant). The sewage tank was another after-moving-in surprise we thought the house had sewage lines that ran to the main sewage pipes of Seremban town this is what the real estate agents confirmed when we asked. Maybe they didn't understand our question because here bungalows have septic tanks in the ground as there are no city sewage pipelines. The only viable spot for a vegetable garden on our property is in the center of the front yard!!!!

A shot of our backyard. V= where the Vegetables were to be planted near the back door to the Kitchen and all the way to the side of the property, H= where the Herbs were to be planted alongside the Wet Kitchen, F= where the Fruit Trees and plants were to be planted. The Tree to the right is was an existing young Mango Tree.

So we remain gardenless at this point in time. Well, it is OK for a couple reasons, firstly we totally underestimated how hot it can get in the yard and gardening would be an exhausting job. Secondly, there is an abundant supply of vegetables sold at Family Store and the Seremban Wet Market at a very low cost.

I am enjoying Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and there is still a lot to be taken from the book. For example, I’m not really sure where most of the vegetables come from around here. I bet that most of the vegetables in the Wet Market are locally grown and many of the growers even set up inside or outside the wet market. But, I’m not as sure about Family Store and Jusco. I’ve seen USA labeled plums in Family Store and seen US Potatoes in Jusco; I’ve actually bought ‘Red Delicious’ Apples from Jusco which were shipped from Washington State in the US. How do I know, because I tasted the apples and they tasted horrible, like sawdust and I checked where they came from. I’ve tried other red apples here in Seremban only to find that the imported ones are not good (at least the ones coming all the way from the US). I think the apples I eat which are large light redish/yellow in color come from China. But, I should check. I really should be more aware of where these things are coming from. Even before picking up Kingsolver’s book R and I have been trying over the past year to wean ourselves off of the bottled/packaged Western food products that we buy. They cost as much as they do in the US or more making these products account for a good portion of our monthly food cost. The products I am talking about are things like- Heinz Ketchup instead of local ketchup (let’s face it Heinz does taste better, but we can get a bottle of Malaysian ketchup for under 2 RM where Heinz costs over 9 RM for a very small bottle.). The same goes for Western cosmetic products. Some things we still use because there isn’t an adequate substitute, but where we can buy a local product or from Asia we do try.

It seems that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has its own website here for more information on the book.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Malaysian Patio Furniture

It is an underestimate to say I am dying (me not R) for some Patio Furniture for the house. Even our cat T would love at least something to lounge on out on the patio. But you can see by the photo that the patio remains furniture-less. Since we made an offer on the house I have been looking for the perfect patio set. But there are a couple issues here... Firstly, the patio furniture in Malaysia is expensive... and I’m not sure why when everyone has patios to fill. Secondly, my idea initially was to do some very cushiony comfortable sofa and chairs to lounge in; but the overhang on the roof doesn't go out that far so in bad weather, the rain comes crashing into the space at times all the way over to the sliding glass doors. Therefore, buying cushion furniture that is not at least trying to be outdoor fabric (mold resistant and in a neutral color where dirt wont show up easily) I write 'trying' because brands made here or china might imply they are water resistant, but that doesn't mean they will weather Malaysian storms over time. Some of the options are the plastic type rattan patio furniture like what is offered at Houz Depot which are expensive and I don’t really care for the sets. Houz Depot is like the Home Depot of Malaysia. The company boasts that they are the largest home improvement wholesale hyperstore in Malaysia with 120,000 square feet of shopping space. But, it is no Home Depot (we did get our Rubine Microwave from Houz Depot at a great price, so they do have some things). See a few images of Houz Depot’s Patio Furniture below or check their website here (the prices I pulled from their ad catalog I picked up at the store awhile ago):

HOUZ DEPOT POSHZ Rattan Outdoor Furniture Set GCV802V-4A Regular Price 5,528 RM Sale Price: 3,888 RM

HOUZ DEPOT POSHZ PVC Rattan Outdoor Lying Bed MJ-08SL018 Regular Price 3,868 RM Sale Price: 2,699 RM

HOUZ DEPOT POSHZ PVC Rattan Outdoor Furniture c/w Cushions MJ-08S006 Regular Price 8,498 RM Sale Price: 5,988 RM

But even the cushions on these outside sets we can't be sure are mold resistant.... so I am forced to reconsider the cushion issue unless I can find cushions that I think will at least last a couple years. I have been looking at books of houses especially in Central and South America and see that they use some Rattan and it looks pretty cool. So I think to myself, maybe we can do something special in Rattan that is made locally and has a Malaysian feel that you can't find elsewhere. But the problem with this idea is that most Malaysian Rattan is pretty traditional (in a bad way) and often the furniture does use cushions which are not mold resistant. There is a Rattan place near our house where the guy makes the furniture right on site and there is a chair called a Coil Chair that I thought looked neat and I can't find online outside of Malaysia. This is not a Papasan chair (one of those big round rattan chairs with a cushion that they sell at Pier 1 in the US). This chair doesn't use a cushion.

A photo of the Coil chair, but this isn't a great photo as it makes the chair look like a satellite, from the side the chair is quite stylish

But they seem a bit small, so I asked the guy if he can make 2 bigger coil chairs and he said yes, but he wants a huge price to make them! The smaller Coil Chair I tested is very comfortable without a cushion actually, so here we wouldn't have to deal with the cushion issue. I even like the guy's swing chair and thought maybe we could rig one or two on the side of the patio between our house and the neighbors which would give us more privacy as the swings would do some blocking, but rattan swing chairs are very trendy right now around the world and might be out of fashion before we take our first swing.

The Rattan man told me his price is high because there is a lack of Rattan material right now to make new products. I'm all for re-using and buying a used set if we can find some cool vintage (or older rattan) but I haven’t seen anything just right yet.

If I could get my hands on some of this type of furniture in the photo above which looks similar to the Danish Mid Century Retro furniture, I think these have been made in Malaysia, it would be great. But the price is bound to be high and the furniture will need cushions.

For now, I keep looking...

Birds of Paradise in Orange

Well surprise surprise... we do have orange Birds of Paradise in our front landscaping after all! I posted before that the landscapers put in red and yellow Birds of Paradise which are kind of small in size. Well, this larger orange Bird just bloomed and there is another on the other side of the landscape coming up. I love the orange and the size of these... but they are mixed with the red and yellow flowers. I tend to like repetition in landscaping, not a mish-mash. But, oh well. I guess it makes for some different flowers and after watching over time to see what we have I guess we can always change it.

Malaysian Curry Powder and Tumeric Powder

I don’t usually by Chicken with bones, but I wanted to try Malaysian Curry Chicken which uses this type of chicken, so I bought ½ a chicken (cost 7.84 RM or about $2.55 US Dollars). Yes, the chicken doesn’t look that great does it? Well, much of the chicken even the boneless chicken isn’t the most fantastic stuff. But, well, TIM (This is Malaysia), the cost is low and it tastes ok. The recipe I used for the Malaysian Curry Chicken on is here. It called for Baba’s Meat Curry Powder ( which is what I had on hand. I bought this packet from a stall in the Seremban Wet Market awhile ago, the woman said it was the most popular Malaysian Curry. The curry powder (forgot to take a photo of it) was almost an orange-ish color more orange than yellow curry and I read online that Malaysian Curry has more Turmeric in it so it makes since because Turmeric is more of this color.

I have a great example of Turmeric that I picked up at Family Store. Reading the label on the package of Santhas it said “Crow Brand Curry Powder” so I thought I was buying a big package of Curry packaged in Seremban! But No, when I came home and searched the words “Serbuk Kunyit” I found out it means Turmeric Powder. So now I have a lifetime supply of Turmeric except that the bag expires in 2011!

Anyway, the Malaysian Curry Chicken first attempt wasn’t good. The recipe called for one cup of oil (lots of oil is used here in Malaysia for wok cooking, etc. so that wasn’t a surprise, and I use ½ cup oil for my fantastic Jamaican Curry recipe). Well, if you look at the Malaysian Curry Chicken recipe I used at the end it says “Turn off heat, skim off excess oil on the surface” and it wasn’t joking, there was tons of oil on the surface, and who really has time to get it off? What a gross mess. Next time, I’ll try this recipe with less oil. I think I should give Baba’s Curry another try at least and try to master this popular Malaysia dish albeit my own version. This post has given me an idea, I should really try and get a better handle on different kinds of CURRY... I should do some research and make a post on it.

House Numbers and Planters

I always see things on CONTEMPORIST. Yesterday their feature Broadway Residences by Stephen Vitalich Architects in Venice, California showed a house with the kind of house numbers I want to put on our house and some dark planters on the Venice House’s roof Garden that would be great for the landscaping... now if I could only find them in Malaysia...