The Hip Way To Being Green

I count myself lucky to know Don and Mylene.

Mylene Ooi and Don Theseira of Green Crusaders
Mylene Ooi and Don Theseira of Green Crusaders

It started with someone giving me their phone number a few years ago because I wanted to contact them to give a talk at Mensa Penang.
They invited us to listen to their environment talk at the Pulau Tikus church one morning.
I was totally in awe of the tireless work they do.
They could have been enjoying a happy retirement in their home in Bukit Mertajam but they felt compelled to help the environment by teaching people a cleaner, easier method of recycling household wastes. The method also produces enough money for the local community to donate to their favourite causes or charity homes.
In fact over the past 12 years, they have helped raise over RM50,000 for their local charities. All these from two people who believed that they could. This does not take into account that their method is also helping many companies and hospitals and households in Penang go green easily. (Their method is clever and easy. The usual recycle bin method brings a lot of problems – dirty, smelly and who cleans the bins anyway? Their method makes recycling an accountable and effortless habit.)
Besides going all over Malaysia to give talks, they also teach people how to compost household scraps. Don’s method is the method I am using right now.
And I can vouch that there are no flies, no smells and no stink. What I get is rich compost – so rich that sometimes little seeds start growing right in the compost pots!
Over the past year and a half, Nic and I have thrown out very little rubbish because we recycle anything that can be recycled and we compost our organic food scraps. (I say this before prior to this, we lived high up and didn’t have the space to do all the green and eco-friendly things we wanted to do. Now that we’ve moved to a ground floor apartment with a scrap of backyard, I am now greener!). I save up used cooking oil to give to Mylene each time I see her. She passes it to a contractor who uses this cooking oil to make soap.
Whenever we meet up, we have many stories to exchange, primarily because Don and Mylene give a talk once every two weeks upon invitation from factories, NGOs, hospitals, schools and corporate bodies. They are also a couple who have enough energy to put younger people to shame. It is not easy for a couple in their 60s and 70s going all over Penang and sometimes all the way down to Johor to give free talks.
It is a tireless and oftentimes, a thankless role as environmental ambassadors and green crusaders. I hope I have their enthusiasm and energy when I get to my 60s.
What is not strange is that we love visiting them and each time we do, we have a feast!
Most elderly people will cringe at eating unhealthy stuff but not them. Oh not this feisty Eurasian couple!
Mylene, Don and me at Look Yuen Restaurant, Bukit Mertajam
Mylene, Don and me at Look Yuen Restaurant, Bukit Mertajam

Don loves his ‘too kar’ and so do I. So when we meet up, we go for ‘too kar’ (pig’s trotters) in Nibong Tebal which has a totally sinful version. This time around, we went to Look Yuen Restaurant in Bukit Mertajam for braised pig’s trotters. It was still unbelievably sinful and like chocolate, the gelatinous bits melted right in my mouth!
Besides the main star of the lunch (the trotters), other dishes which were heaven included Nyonya-style prawn sambal with a kick, springy fish ball soup (normally I don’t like fish balls but this was an exception) and stirfried sawi or mustard greens. Before we tucked into our main meal, we ordered 2 rounds of fruit rojak from the stall located just outside the restaurant. Pure yumminess!
Plus Don never says no to chocolate ice cream or chocolate while watching golf on TV.
Now how many senior citizens you know who are so darn cool?

Hatyai With Dancing Ladies, Part 2

If you read Part 1, Part 2 is where it gets interesting.

View of Hatyai town from Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel
View of Hatyai town from Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel

We were spending a two-day, one-night weekend in the Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel in the heart of Hatyai town.
It was a clever idea to get this hotel as it was smack dab in the midst of all the activity of the town and surrounded on all sides by malls, shops, restaurants, Western cafes and roadside stalls.
With such a great location, it’s just minutes away from all the shopping and eating we could all indulge in. (Later I found out that these ladies wrangled this hotel at the last minute due to knowing one of the directors of this hotel, who was an ex-student of Han Chiang High School. Normally this hotel is fully booked and packed to the gills with Malaysians.)
In fact, it’s built right on top of a shopping mall. I had a good view of the town from the hotel lobby.
I decided to take a quick nap after we checked in although the ladies decided to succumb to the shopping bug downstairs. I think a bit of shut-eye would make me more alert as I knew we would be staying up late (at least I knew I’d be!).
Around 4.30pm, we were again in our tour bus, shuttled to the Hatyai Floating Market.
A long row of floating sampans
A long row of floating sampans

Now I know and you know that this is really a tourist gimmick. Trust the enterprising Thais to create a way to give tourists something to do and something to eat and something to see. After all, if you really think about it, Hatyai isn’t exactly Disneyland. Spend more than 2 days here and you’d be bored to tears. It’s great for a weekend but anything more is overkill.
Hatyai - straight ahead
Hatyai - straight ahead

It was a bit of a let down because the market vendors had lined up sampans along the embankment of a river and seated all the food business folks into these sampans. It wasn’t as if these sampans were cruising the river and you could stop one to get your food.
Floating market in Hatyai
Floating market in Hatyai

Ah well. Maybe it was just jaded old me.
Colours and smells of the floating market
Colours and smells of the floating market

In typical Thai style, the food was enticing and presented well. Even drinks were sold in cute clay Doraemon mugs you could take home! But like Cecilia noted, who knows if the unglazed clay mugs were washed? They could be dusty and dirty. True.
Your takeaway mug
Your takeaway mug

We decided to just browse around. The rest of the market showed just how creative and enterprising the Thai people really are.
One stall had items such as handbags and cowboy hats made from aluminium or beer cans.
Handmade hats from beer cans
Handmade hats from beer cans

This lady was deftly putting together a cowboy hat made with flattened pieces of aluminium beer cans.
Beer can cowboy hat
Beer can cowboy hat

I also chanced upon fresh tamarind fruits. Tamarind is high in Vitamin C and the fruit is encased in a brown shell which breaks easily. Unlike the tamarind used for cooking, fresh tamarind is sweet and sticky, much like a fresh date.
Fresh tamarind fruit
Fresh tamarind fruit

It was a warm afternoon with the last rays of the sun beating down on us. I decided to quickly walk across a bridge where I soon came upon a stall selling fried bugs and fried worms.
Fried worms and fried grasshoppers as snacks
Fried worms and fried grasshoppers as snacks

Now I’ve seen enough of this on TV and was eager to bite into one. I had to know what the texture of a fried bug would be.
Fried roaches about 2 inches long
Fried roaches about 2 inches long

A number of people gawked at the bugs on the trays, stopping to snap photos but none were buying.
I decided to buy a packet (it was only 20 Baht or RM2). I asked the seller if I could mix 2 types of bugs into my one order. He was too happy to do so. I chose fried worms (looked a bit like the worms you get in pet shops to feed birds) and fried grasshoppers. I figured at least the grasshoppers ate proper green stuff unlike cockroaches, which was also for sale but the cockroach was huge and I didn’t know if I could bite it in half!
To make the bugs more palatable, the seller sprinkled some seasoning with a squirt of soy sauce.
Everyone looked at me, even strangers who were milling about and snapping photos of the bugs. I just speared one with a toothpick and popped one into my mouth. The fried worm tasted like dried prawn or “hae bee” albeit with a softer texture. It wasn’t bad at all.
Next I tried the fried grasshopper, about an inch long. This offered a crunch and it was also rather tasty. No icky taste at all. This could be the start of my love affair with bugs!
As I was happily munching on my bug snacks, Noel and BL were watching me. It looks horrible if you’re not eating it – your imagination powers up your innate fears about worms and creepy crawlies. It’s like Fear Factor – voyeurs tend to be more emotional than the people who eat those taboo things.
I offered Noel and BL some and they sportingly took some, though Noel wanted to have some water ready before he swallowed his fried worm. I told him that it was not fair to swallow it – he had to chew it and taste it.
Noel took up my challenge - to eat a fried worm!
Noel took up my challenge - to eat a fried worm!

It was a novelty all right but it was something exciting and fun and it capped the day for me. It was far more exciting than any pseudo floating market.
More to come… shopping on my own in Hatyai’s night market and a late night surprise!

Hatyai With Dancing Ladies, Part 1

It was one of those spontaneous things – I got invited to join a group of line dancing ladies from Han Chiang for a weekend in Hatyai in January (yes this is a very late post but better late than never ya!). Nic was visiting Kuching for the week and I had nothing planned so I thought, what a great idea.

Thailand immigration checkpoint at border before entering Hatyai town
Thailand immigration checkpoint

I was amazed I could wake up that early for our bus ride into Thailand. I hadn’t been to Hatyai in years – not since the last time my uncle and aunt drove us there. I know Hatyai may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I know it’s a fun, kitschy place. It’s all things weird and funky. And did it get funkier as the day went!
thailand border with malaysia
Sawadee kap!

Once we reached the border, it was quite a chaotic jam. As it was a Saturday, lots of cars and tour buses were making their way into Thailand too. Our bus took more than an hour to inch its way toward the border which separates Malaysia from Thailand. Technically, it was just a long gate. Once we passed the gate, everyone got down to clear immigration. We had to get our passports stamped.
Now I don’t know if you know this but apparently, our tour leader had to “visit” the Thai immigration office while we patiently lined up. He was “doing the necessary”. If he did not do the necessary, then the immigration officers might give us hell and slowly take their time. Can anyone confirm this? Apparently it’s an open secret. People just pay and move on. After all, they just want a weekend in Hatyai – so a few ringgit here and there won’t kill anyone.
Braised pork leg Thailand
Star of the meal - braised pork leg Thai style

Our first stop was for lunch (a very early one for Hatyai standards) just a few kilometres after we cleared the Thai immigration. Everyone who visits Thailand has 2 things in mind – food and shopping. Presumably, there’s nothing more delicious than real tongue-searing tomyam soup in Thailand.
Thai people are also big on “muu” or pork dishes so besides the ubiquitous tomyam, we had to order the braised pork leg with its gelatinous skin. The tomyam worked well in creating an appetite and a contrast to the richness of the simmered pork leg, tender in each mouthful.
Once our lunch was done, we trooped into a traditional style biscuit shop a few doors away.
Apparently these travelling companions of mine were old hands at this.
They knew which shop to buy from, which restaurant to eat at.
I marvelled at the way these ladies descended upon the biscuit shop. (It’s a wonderful change for me. Usually I am the holiday planner when Nic and I go travelling. This trip really allowed me to sit back and let others make decisions for a change.)
The biscuit shop had very good business that day!
The biscuit shop had very good business that day!

It wasn’t asking about the biscuits – boy, these ladies knew what they were after.
Crunchy savoury meat floss crackers
Crunchy savoury meat floss crackers

It was just a matter of deciding how much to order!
This was selling for 35 baht (around RM3.50)
This was selling for 35 baht (around RM3.50)

This shop sold kuih kapit with floss filling besides “thnee kuih” and all types of Thai biscuits and delicacies with a crunch.
More crispy and crunchy stuff to tempt
More crispy and crunchy stuff to tempt

In the end the ladies ordered tins of kuih kapit. Luckily, our bus was only half full so they could really shop to their hearts’ desire.
Kuih kapit in tins
Kuih kapit in tins

And this was only the first 2 hours outside Hatyai – we hadn’t even reached our hotel yet.
To be continued…. (where I get to the pseudo-floating market and eat a bunch of bugs, much to my friends’ disgust!)

Featured in Guang Ming Daily

Remember that story about Guang Ming wanting to know how I made yogurt at home?
Well, they featured my how-to as well as a tiny picture of me holding a tub of yogurt on 20 March 2011.
UPDATE
[Li Choo, the Guang Ming reporter, recently emailed me the link to the feature on the Guang Ming website. Here’s the link: http://www.guangming.com.my/node/98904?tid=46 This online report also includes photos of how I made my yogurt in a step-by-step way.]
It was published about 2 weeks after I gave the photos to the journalist. It was also a day before our trip to Hong Kong which meant if it had been later, I would not have managed to run down to the Indian news vendor to grab a copy. The journalist had SMSed me and told me it was appearing in the Sunday edition – this was a feature you see.

Featured in Guang Ming newspaper 20 March 2011
Featured in Guang Ming newspaper 20 March 2011

The thing is, I am still a newbie at Mandarin so my reading skills aren’t terribly exciting. I can manage roughly to get an idea what the feature said. Hope to get it translated one day by my aunt.
But if you want the English version, you can get the yogurt recipe here – I call it the pictorial guide.

Wandering Jew For Tea

Recently I was given this plant when I went over to visit Mylene.

The wandering jew plant from Mylene - it's medicinal too!
The wandering jew plant from Mylene - it's medicinal too!

It’s become a habit of ours to exchange plants and seeds. She often said that she wished most companies would give her a potted plant as a token of appreciation instead of the usual souvenirs like mugs and engraved plaques. I agree.
At least getting a plant means you get to take a life home.
She told me that this plant could help prevent ailments. Chief among those was cancer. Ooohhh.
I asked her the name of the plant but she didn’t know.
So me being the intrepid and curious sort decided to find out. I happened to have an old book on indoor plants (which I wrangled from my dad years ago – one never knows with parents. They have a propensity of throwing or giving old books away). So I looked it up and figured it’s called Wandering Jew.
The pleasure of living in the 21st century is that ANYTHING can be checked and confirmed online.
So I started browsing some websites and ended up confirming that yes, this is called an Inch Plant, a Wandering Jew plant and Tradescantia zebrina (its proper name).
Close up of the wandering jew plant
Close up of the wandering jew plant

It can be a house plant or grown outside as ground cover but further reading unearthed that if you do plant it as ground cover, beware that it might overtake the entire ground! Yes, this plant may look harmless but it is invasive.
Now I am more interested in this plant as a medicinal herb (yes, this is another addition to my herbal collection which I am growing).
In Chinese, this plant is called Shui Gui Cao (Water Turtle Grass).
Accordingly, it is useful when boiled as a herb tea and drunk to clear the kidneys and for kidney problems.
The first blog link above recommends using 200 gm of the Wandering Jew leaves to be boiled with 15 dried red dates and 12 slices of ginger in a pot of 1.5 liters of water. Simmer for 1.5 hours before adding brown sugar. This tea apparently helps remove toxins from your body.
Mylene said that her friend boils this plant and drinks it for health maintenance. For now, I am contented just having it grow on the balcony. Wait till it grow a little bit bigger before I pluck its leaves for a herbal tisane!
By the way, have you come across this plant?

Simplicity and Heart

I have been rather tied up with things lately that I have had very little time to blog.
But today being Wesak Day, I decided to give myself a break and come back to my scribbles. Lots of you have checked in and found too few updates. I promise to be regular. The thing is, I have way too many stories to tell.
As it is Wesak today, let me tell you a story about giving. (We went to the Than Hsiang Temple just this morning. It wasn’t as packed as I’d imagined despite the number of cars on the side of the road.)
We received a lovely surprise not too long ago in the post.

Thank you card from Kawan Shop in Chulia Street
Thank you card from Kawan Shop in Chulia Street

It was simple yet touching. And we felt immediately humbled and thankful.
Kawan Shop is on Chulia Street, directly opposite Kassim Mustafa Nasi Kandar (yes, the one with the lipsmacking duck curry which I’ve written about yonks ago).
They are a Christian missionary project by Youth With A Mission Malaysia organisation.
The Kawan Shop depends on well-wishers and generous people to fund and sustain their missionary work. Kawan Shop is where you drop off your old but still useful clothes, electrical appliances, household items, toys, books and bits and bobs. They’ll clean these items and put them up for sale at RM5 apiece. Some items are priced at RM1 and whatever they make, the money goes to fund their work.
As I’m always cleaning out stuff from my closet and spare room, I have plenty to donate to them. We make it a point to drop off things every few months but their opening hours can be erratic.
On top of that, parking on Chulia Street on a regular day is very traumatic, with Rapid Penang buses maneuvering tight corners and narrow roads and cars parked here and there. (Did I mention our favourite beef noodles is just around the corner too?)
Anyway, if you have items to donate to Kawan Shop (better to donate than create more landfills!), make sure you call them up beforehand to ensure they are open for business (Tel: 04 261 8405 or email kawanpg@ywammalaysia.org).
I was completely surprised by the handwritten card – it was just a plain piece of card, folded into half. But to take the time to pen a note to people who support Kawan Shop, it spoke volumes to us about the team behind Kawan.
It is such a blessing to give!
Handwritten message from Kawan Shop
Handwritten message from Kawan Shop

As it is Wesak Day today, let us all experience our little moments of enlightenment here on earth!