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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Suka Suka: A wonderful homestay on an island in a lake...

The next morning we travelled by various buses for about 6 hours to a place not far from Kuala Kangsar. The people watching (people still all dressed up for the holidays) was quite fun,


and the bus trip was really quite splendid, so air-conditioned as to actually be chilly! At some point we stopped at a Muslim restaurant for lunch (now that Ramadan is over, not a problem). The restaurant was called something like "Restoran Kari Kepala Ikan Salim" -- Salim's Fish Head Curry Restaurant -- and it was a huge truck stop.

It was completely disorganized in every way and the policy seemed to be put everything you want on your plate and then the guy up front guesses wildly at what it should cost.

The sun may have completely fried my head, but I was just wowed at what was probably the very best meal I had in Malaysia! There was the most delicious fried chicken I'd ever tasted, squid, a prawn dish in curry, but no, I did not indulge in the fish-head curry. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone driving between Kota Bharu and Kuala Kangsar!  (Um, I realize that would constitute approximately none of my friends, but still, if you ever find yourself on that road.... give it a go!)

We reached the bus stop and then had to walk about 500 m to the jetty where we were picked up by boat and went on a stunning boat ride through the lake to our hosts' idyllic oasis of a home on an island in that lake. 

Their names are Aziz, Asiah, and Azam (their 6 year old son who had a habit of saying ridiculously cute things in English). 


They also had a family friend named Neoh who was staying there who was extremely friendly and had lived in California for many years so enjoyed catching up with me about that.   We all stayed in cute little cottages in that great setting.  However, this time I was paired up as a roommate with Prima Donna Spoiled Bitch, which was less than fun when she left her junk ALL over the floor, and got her hair all over my few toiletry items that there was room for in the bathroom in addition to her 17 skin and hair products.  Yuck!  Also, she was deathly afraid of monkeys.  Usually that's not a major issue in sharing a room, but on this island there is a macaque who likes to visit the rooms and steal things like female hygiene products, and junk food (probably not in that order). So we had to actually keep our door and window closed tight to avoid the monkey :( At least I got the mosquito net. And believe me, by the end of this trip I was not the only person on the trip who wanted to vote Prima Donna off the island -- literally and figuratively ;-)

Staying at the homestay featured amazing traditional Malay food which was explained to us in great detail


and 6 of us also participated in a cooking class which was quite fun -- prawns sambal, a dish with winged beans, another one with pumpkin, ayam (chicken) rendang, and a pineapple curry that was the best! We also helped with breakfast the next day which included, in addition to the usual curry puffs and roti canai, yummy pancakey crepes wrapped around bananas with jam and butter on them. OMG.

We took a walk to the village


and then into the jungle; it became more of a slippery tiring hike to a gorgeous waterfall, which I was a bit too afraid to go into, worried about falling and such. And then there were the leeches. I'm not a total sissy, I can handle one at a time, but when there are 6 on me at once trying to burrow through my socks I start to get stressed with strategizing which order to remove them in. Luckily I did manage to get them all off while racing against their heat-sensitive blood-sucking clock, but there were casualties among the others. We saw a big blood stain on the back of Gary's shirt, and it turned out a leech had probably dropped from a branch above onto his back.



At the end of the leechy bloody waterfally hike, we were back to the village and a large extended family invited us to come and eat with them as part of their Hari Raya festivities -- now this is what I'm talkin' about! Apparently according to our host Aziz who was chock full of knowledge if a family invites you to have drinks on their verandah they don't really mean it and you should respectfully decline. However, the invite into the house is a serious one and if you take them up on it you'd better not leave any leftovers!


This meal involved sitting cross legged on the floor and eating with only the right hand (as the left one is used in the Malay toilet setting for Bad Things). The food was delicious, especially a beef curry, and after that get this, the people in the house wanted to take photos of US since we were such unusual visitors for them! It was very cool to have the tables turned and we traded a bunch of mutual photos. One young woman, Rose, was super friendly and lo and behold wanted to friend us on Facebook! Also during this interlude, I learned an important sentence in Malay/Indonesian: "Anda kelihatan seperti bintang filem", which of course means, "You look like a movie star!" I figured that would get people to smile and pose for a photo. So far so good, they seemed to be enjoying it and were genuinely amused by my saying it.


Back at the ranch, Sabrina and I decided to do a kayak trip around the island. Great, great fun. We ended up temporarily trapped in a stunningly beautiful lily pad, which sadly I didn't have my camera to get photos of. On the other hand, maybe it was a good thing as I got completely soaked from paddling, and the camera might have been ruined. I've decided that in any case I MUST HAVE a new camera and am coveting a particular Panasonic model at the moment. It won't happen till I get home though.

We had a sarong-fastening lesson and all of us dressed in sarongs for a lovely delicious dinner with Aziz and family.


After that meal, I hung around and chatted with Aziz and Neoh and among many Deep Topics, the subject of infectious disease came up. My ID consultant had printed out a 22 page tome about Indonesia and which obscure diseases had recently occurred there, and there was one I told them was a bizarre name that I couldn't completely remember. "Chikungunya Fever?" said Aziz. "I had it last year." Apparently they were able to diagnose it at the government hospital and not at the private hospital he started out at, in a bizarre turn of events. This led to an interesting discussion of not only the problem (which is a mosquito-borne virus that causes horrible joint pains) but also the Malaysian health care system, which is apparently pretty excellent. A full hospitalization costs a co-pay of 2 Ringgit (about 58 cents US), and Aziz's mother's pacemaker cost 60 Ringgit (about 17-18 USD?)
Maybe I will be a little better at diagnosing obscure infectious diseases now, but hopefully not in myself...

Another thing I forgot to mention is how spectacular the sunsets were at Suka Suka -- I'll just show you!


We were really sorry to say goodbye to Aziz after he took us on a tour of "The Beverly Hills of Kuala Kangsar" -- a stunning area, with a really stupendous mosque (Masjid Obadiah) that we got to take a look around. Sadly the Sultan was not available for an open house, which is a tradition for Hari Raya season among even Malay officials.


That afternoon after another high-quality Malaysian bus ride on lovely highways (see, I was already starting to fear the Sumatran bus system coming up next) we arrived back in Kuala Lumpur. With only a few hours remaining, we had to eat at Nando's (a portuguese chicken chain which has conquered the entire world except the US so far) for a late lunch and then go to Bukit Bintang in search of a massage. I signed up for something called a "Tuina" massage which I still have no idea what that is. I thought there might be fish involved again, but no. Sabrina and Jessica got hours of stuff done to their feet and legs. And then our goodbye dinner was spent at the Reggae Bar, eating awful food and drinking Long Island Iced Tea and taking photos while my evil camera rebelled, saying "change the batteries" once AGAIN.


It was sad to say goodbye to my newfound friends, but I think some of our paths will cross again, at the very least on Facebook ;-) It was generally a great group of people, each one at this point moving on in their own direction and me to Sumatra. At last I have finally won them over on the terrific ABC Malaysian dessert before we parted ways ;-)

More about Sumatra to follow!

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