Monday, February 28, 2011

Common Myna Birds and Grass

One of our regular visitors in the yard are birds known as the Common Myna which often lurk around the yard pecking the grass and sometimes they sit on the roof and in the Bamboo and Mango Trees. I like their call which is pretty. I looked them up a long time ago and found that they are considered an invasive bird. One of only three birds in the world to be considered invasive because they inhabit an environment and then take over in numbers and they are somehow aggressive. I think this is possibly true because the Common Myna birds in Malaysia, or at least in my yard, are very strong and they seem to always be plotting for food. Our cat T loves to watch them but given the opportunity, I don't think he would attack them as the Common Myna birds might first attack him!

So our Cow Grass after the last mow is looking like this. And in some places you can see the dirt. It seems like the grass is getting very thin. And we had the thought after seeing a bunch of birds pecking in the yard that maybe they were having something to do with the grass thinning.

We sent some photos to Nilai Landscaping, the company that put the grass in and said we were concerned the grass was dying. This is what they wrote back:

It will not die off just like that, don’t worry.

Dead grass visible underneath is actually the “thatch layer” (please google for the meaning). Could be avoided with constant cutting (2 -3 cut per month) and sweeping off the grass clippings after cutting.

Grass that looks like it is growing vertically in certain areas instead of normal horizontal growth is due to lack of sunlight (insufficient sunlight).

Grass colour is too light green and it should be darker green. This is due to insufficient fertilizer.

Trusting the above is in order.

So we will now fertilize and try and mow the grass more often and see what happens.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Landscaping Between Houses

The landscaping between our house and our neighbor's house is a bit thin. We can see the neighbor's car and drive when we are sitting on our patio. Our neighbors are a foreign couple who have lived in Seremban for a couple years renting this house, but have to leave because the house has sold. While our neighbors are great and quiet as it is only the two of them, we thought we better get working on a landscape solution for this area before the new owners move into the house in May.

At first I was thinking about a lattice wall where we can train vines to go up, but B told us that wood exposed here would be problematic as the sun would wear it away or the termites might come and eat it away.

So now I am thinking about plants that can grow high in this area. I don't want to put in any trees because the pipes run under the pebbles and more roots in the area might be problematic.

Image from Pick Me Yard A Family Garden Blog showing 13 foot high Greater Galangal

So when I was recently researching Galangal I read that you can plant those rhizomes you buy from the grocery store into the soil and they should grow. If Galangal can grow to at least 13 feet then it seems like it would be a great 'green wall' between the two properties.

An image of a flowering Galangal on Gardening With Wilson: Singapore Blog

I also read that you can do the same thing with Ginger roots. And I think they grow these great red flowers (I should check with the nursery, the red flower kind might be different). I love the show-y-ness of this plant and at first I read that it doesn't grow so high, but these photos show that a grown Ginger plant would be high enough to give us some privacy between the houses.

Strangely, I think that both the Galangal and Ginger Plants long stems and leaves look something like our always growing and blooming Bunga Katan Plant on the other side of our property.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Instant Hot Water Heater Installation in Guest Bedroom

See my previous post on the problems we had in the house and hot water due to the malfunction of the Joven Hot Water Heater in the attic. We had to do an emergency installation of the Joven 880P Instant Water Heater in the second Guest Bedroom (formerly the Maid's Room) where there was no hot water pipes routed to the bathroom so we could install a portable instant water heater in the bathroom, actually it is the only option unless we wanted to hack the walls and add new piping which would have been a mess and very expensive as we would have had to re-tile the bathroom, something we didn't want to do!

We had already purchased the Joven instant water heater and planned to take the electricity from the ceiling light. But when C came to install it, he said that we couldn't use a 'light fixture' electric source as it wasn't strong enough for an instant water heater. Therefore, the only electric source for the bathroom was all the way in the guest bedroom itself from the room's only electrical outlet.

So C tapped into the electrical outlet, and ran external white plastic casing along the walls to get it to the bathroom. Here in Malaysia this external piping is quite common. Yes, it looks crappy and we know it, but we didn't want to hack the walls which would have been a mess, costly and in the emergency installation... would take too much time. So he rigged it up the wall. As we plan to paint the room a dark blue or grey, we will use a sealer on this casing and paint it too, hoping that it will take the paint.

C's first suggestion was to run the piping outside over the cornice!!! I couldn't bear that and so we reluctantly allowed him to hack open the plaster ceiling so he could get the electric cords threaded through the cornice with a minimal amount of damage. Now we'll have to have the plaster guy here to fix this hole.

He also made a small hole in the bathroom to get the electric near the wall where the instant water heater was to be installed.

You can see that that white casing comes down from the wall. Again, this is quite common here and our only option unless we wanted to rip the tiles out. All of this because the original contractor or first owner decided that the maid's room would be completed without hot water and therefore, no hotwater pipes or proper electric were installed in the maid's bathroom at the time of construction. So for now, we live with that ugly white casing. Joven 880P model is not a pump model as we did not need one, when we had tested the water earlier, we heard the pump come on and it was very good water pressure in the bathroom. At least the water is tied to the pump in the attic.

You can see that the installation is not complete, I snapped the photo above while C tried to go to a number of plumbing stores in Seremban to get the flexible hose that connects the water source (small hole in the wall) with the bottom right of the instant water heater as this hose wasn't included in the Joven box. All the stores were closed, so he went to his house and found an old hose to use on our unit temporarily. By early afternoon we finally had hot showers!!!!

Toliet which needs a white toilet seat.

Small sink intended for the maid. There will be no hot water here for our guests.

Basically the Guest Bedroom and Bathroom are looking pretty bleak at this point, but at least there is hot water in the bathroom now and in the photo above you can see that we had C wire the space for an air conditioner which we will install once the room is painted. After the plaster and re-working of the ceiling light points, painting and decorating is done, I hope this room will be cosy and inviting instead of the mess it is right now...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Good and Bad of Chinese New Year at Our House

Chinese New Year as I mentioned, had been building up momentum in our Seremban neighborhood (which has a large Chinese population) for days before February 3rd.

The Good: We can enjoy big non-stop fireworks from all directions surrounding our house for days and days....

See video of fireworks seen from our office window

The Bad: On the eve of February 3rd (Chinese New Year) our water heater electric switch suddenly turned off causing the power on the second story to go out. We figured out it was the power source to the Joven Water Heater that was tripping our safety switch, so we turned it off and regained power. With the Water Heater power off, we quickly used up our hot water in the storage tank. The next morning I called Joven to get a repair person out to the house as the water heater is still under warranty. He told me that Joven wouldn’t be reopening until Thurday, Feb 10 (which would be 8 days past when the water went out). I told him that would be too long for us to be without hot water and he laughed at me, I mean really laughed at me. He told me that his office has been closed since January 31 and no one was getting serviced. This really upset us, how can a big company (I think the largest in Malaysia for electric water heaters and instant water heaters) just close down for 11 days without any back up service help? It really turned us off on Joven and I wouldn’t buy a Joven product again for this reason.

After calling all the plumbers and electricians we worked with on the house, none of them were available to come out to look at the situation, even non-chinese were on holiday! Apparently, Malaysia has not grasped the idea of holiday over-time pay. On Monday, Feb 7 we were able to get an electrician to the house, where he confirmed that the electric switch and wiring to the hot water heater were not faulty, so it had to be the Joven Water heater that was faulty. But he wouldn’t go up to the attic to even look at it claiming it would nullify the Joven warranty if he did.

At this point we were pretty desperate for some hot water as we had already gone 6 days without hot showers. We were lucky to get our plumber C who helped B with the kitchen to come out to the on Tuesday, Feb 7 (the day he was back from his vacation!) to install an instant water heater that we had already bought for the second Guest Bedroom’s Bathroom (formerly the Maid’s Room where there was no hot water installed or A/C hook-up). We had planned to work on the electric wiring for the bathroom and the electric sources for the ceiling lights before painting the room in about a month and planned to install the instant water heater. But, now we were desperate and decided to get the instant water heater installed. The worse part about this is that we had already purchased a JOVEN INSTANT WATER HEATER as we had had no problems with Joven in the past. It pained us to install another product by Joven, with its crappy service, knowing we could very well have a problem with it as well. But Shong Heng Hardware was closed for Chinese New Year and other appliance stores were as well. We had no choice but to use it to get the hot water rolling. I will post more on the Instant Water Heater installation soon.

Oh, Joven did finally show up on Wednesday, February 9 (7 days after our Joven Water Heater broke) to fix it as an emergency repair. The service person was from KL. The ‘element’ in the system had blown, although Joven has no idea why. We are still waiting to hear if they are going to charge us for the repair or if it is included in the warranty. Maybe we should have gone with solar heat after all...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Syarikat Kiew Brothers Dried Meat

Our friends (an American woman and her Chinese husband who was born and raised in Seremban) came over on February 2 which happened to be the Eve of Chinese New Year. They brought with them some local delights that they thought we might not have tried.

Dried Pork Pieces

Sure enough we hadn't tried the Syarikat Kiew Brothers Dried Meat which is apparently very popular in Malaysia especially around Chinese New Year. The meat tastes very sweet and is soft. Like very good bacon. Incidentally, the bacon cut and produced in Malaysia that we have tried cooks up white and isn't like traditional bacon. To get that you have to pay a big price for imported products like Hormel, etc. Anyway, we liked this product although it is a bit greasy, it can be used instead of traditional bacon for a good Bacon Lettuce and Tomato sandwich or even for breakfast. Although, they told us this brand is considered the best and costs around 80 RM per KG! They told us that the way it is eaten is by itself as a treat or as a sandwich with a bit of manoyaise and some Floss (below) also sprinkled on the sandwich. We tried making sandwiches like this but didn't care for it much. A BLT would be better.

Package of Floss

Dried Pork/Ham Floss

We are less excited about the Floss, although we should try to sprinkle some of it in a vegetable stir-fry or think of other ways to give it a try.

For more info on Syarikat Kiew Brothers there is an article here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Malaysia Common Kingfisher Bird

I was walking past the big windows in the second floor family room today and I saw a blue bird flying away from our property over to the treed area outside the neighborhood. I saw blue wings and body. It was a lovely bird I wish I would have been able to see the front of it to better classify it. Looking on Malaysia Bird websites like this I think that the bird I saw might have been a Common Kingfisher. I'll have to look out for the bird again. I'd really like to get a bird feeder to put up over by the large mango tree and the bamboo bush, because the birds like to hang out in this area, but I haven't seen a bird feeder for sale here or any seed!!!!!

Image from wiki commons of a Kingfisher Bird, wish I could have photographed the bird I saw

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Galangal Rhizome

When I go to the Seremban Wet Market or Family Store, I often see lots of Root type plants for sale. Sometimes they are marked with what the item is but most often not. Ginger Root looks different than Tumeric and Galangal and there are others to be explored too. But for now, about Galangal, because I finally bought some. This is not technically a root but a Rhizome. The name for it in Malay is Lengkuas. I always see these rhizomes in the corner of the refrigerated section at Family Store so on my last visit I asked one of the employees if it was ginger, and he said, "No!" Grabbed the piece I brought over to show him, walked back to the refrigerator and threw it back in the pile. So I nodded at him and went about picking out my fruits and vegetables. But I couldn't let it pass. I had to know what that was, so I went back to the pile, took a smallish piece and had it weighed. For 1.11 RM I got myself a piece of something marked "Lengkuas".

Image of Galangal I bought after I used the center part

I went home and started to search Lengkuas and found out that it is Galangal. Something I had never heard of. Galangal, as I've read, has different kinds of plants. I'm fairly sure what I bought is the Greater Galangal (Alpinia galanga) which is commonly used for cooking especially in Thailand. The Lesser Galangal (Alpinia officinarum) is the 'rarer' type often used for chinese medicine. Then again, there is a third type called Kaempferia Galanga that is also used for Chinese medicine and cooking... worse is that all of these are known by multiple names which often get confused.

The rhizome isn't that popular in the West. It can be found in Asian food stores often dried, or fresh rhizomes can be found in better markets.

So I checked online what to do with this. I tried putting some chopped up pieces in stir-fry. I thought it was good, it has a much more earthy and spicy smell to it than ginger. It reminds me of Christmas Potpourri or some kind of Christmas spice mix (at least that's what the smell evokes for me). R didn't like the stuff in his stir-fry that much. He said he thinks ginger is better.

I had extra Galangal left and I didnt know what to do with it, so I made Chai this morning with it. It's the first time I ever made Chai... and it was great. I followed Veg Recipes of India's blog recipe here except I didn't have any lemongrass, so I made it without. It was actually one of the best Chai's I've ever tasted, and I made it!!!! Very rich and spicy. I read on other sites on the web that Galangal when drank as a tea can give you a very relaxed feeling and hightened perception. I have to say, the stuff totally relaxed me and did do something to my perception. It was a very relaxing pleasant feeling after drinking that tea. I'll have to make some more.

Malaysian Made Rattan for the Patio

We finally bought the patio furniture. We decided on Malaysian Rattan. I mentioned before that the man making rattan near our house could make large Malaysian Coil Chairs for us, but when I went back to the store with R we both decided we liked the traditional size chairs, so we bought a set of four.

The chairs were more expensive than the coil chair (pictured a few images below) listed on Mudah. But I wanted to support the local guy. When the chairs arrived and I looked at them compared to the photo on Mudah, I noticed that this local guy’s chairs are better made and have 24 round ‘coils’ around the chair, in the Mudah photo I count 16. I think these chairs we bought look much better and more stylish.

We have placed the set with a simple white table from Ikea. I like the look of this table with the rattan chairs as it has a 70s vibe. But we might buy another table later. We saw one made out of wood which was nice (hard to explain it, it was large and square and made out of small faded grey driftwood pieces with glass on top). Or we might go for a rattan table (ottoman) for the center.

I love going out on the patio and sitting since we got the patio furniture. It is great. If I can find some simple cushions, I might buy them for the base of the chairs, because while the chairs are comfortable, after awhile, it base gets a bit hard. Oh one other thing, after we got the chairs it rained huge amounts for a couple days, the chairs got wet and then dried off quickly; I’m go glad we didn’t get big cushioned furniture.

Above is the 16 Coil Chair that was listed on Mudah.

Above is another round chair I found online other than the popular Papasan Chair. This chair was being sold in Vietnam, the design is different from the Malaysian coil chairs

Initially, I saw what I thought was a really great round rattan table large in size at an old shop in Seremban. I thought I could use it as a table if we bought rattan for the patio. I should go back and see it again and see what it looks like exactly. But further research online already tells me it is a Rattan Ottoman because it looks like the ottomans made by Franco Albini (or these have been attributed to Albini) the Italian designer known for making really radical rattan pieces in the 1950s and his pieces have since become classics.

Ottomans attributed to Albini in different sizes

I’m not sure if the squared-off-top ottomans above are true Albini or just inspired by Albini designs. The beautiful Rattan ottoman I saw in Malaysia was rounded. I’m thinking now about keeping the Ikea table and buying that ottoman for another piece of furniture on the patio or asking the local rattan maker if he can make an ottoman version which will go with the chairs he made us, maybe with more 'coils' if that is possible. I’d get two of them as it would be nice to put our feet up on something.

Another Ottoman attributed to Albini
Franco Albini Rattan Chairs

Above is a children's chair supposedly by Albini. Has a similar shape to the Vietnam round chair

Lastly, a chair and ottoman set by Albini (note here the stool looks flat on top with space for a round cushion)