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Mid-Autumn Festival

>> Sep 30, 2009

A favorite festival of the Chinese, celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of Chinese Lunar calendar. This year, it will fall on 3rd October (Saturday). It is also known as Mooncake festival or in Chinese, “Zhongqiu Jie”. Many Chinese around the world celebrate this special day.

There were many legends surrounding the origins of Mid-Autumn Festival and mooncakes. The most popular one tells how a goddess named Chang'er ascended to the moon.      

A long, long time ago, a terrible drought plagued the earth. Ten suns burned fiercely in the sky like smoldering volcanoes. The trees and grass were scorched. The land was cracked and parched, and rivers were dried. Many people died of hunger and thirst.

The King of Heaven sent Hou Yi down to the earth to help. When Hou Yi arrived, he took out his red bow and white arrows and shot down nine suns one after another. The weather immediately turned cooler. Heavy rains filled the rivers with fresh water and the grass and trees turned green. Life was restored and humanity was saved.

One day, a charming young woman Chang'er made her way home from a stream, holding a bamboo container. A young man came forward, asking for a drink. When she saw the red bow and white arrows hanging round his belt, Chang'er realized that he was their savior, Hou Yi. Inviting him to drink, Chang'er plucked a beautiful flower and gave it to him as a token of respect. Hou Yi, in turn, selected a beautiful silver fox fur as his gift for her. This meeting kindled the spark of their love. And soon after that, they got married.

A mortal's life is limited, of course. So in order to enjoy his happy life with Chang'er forever, Hou Yi decided to look for an elixir of life. He went to the Kunlun Mountains where the Western Queen Mother lived.
Out of respect for the good deeds he had done, the Western Queen Mother rewarded Hou Yi with the elixir, a fine powder made from kernels of fruit which grew on the tree of eternity. At the same time, she told him that if he and his wife shared the elixir, they would both enjoy eternal life; but if only one of them took it, that one would ascend to Heaven and become immortal.

Hou Yi returned home and told his wife all that had happened and they decided to drink the elixir together on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month when the moon was full and bright.  A wicked and merciless man named Feng Meng overheard their plan. He wished Hou Yi an early death so that he could drink the elixir himself and become immortal. His opportunity finally arrived. One day, when the full moon is rising, Hou Yi was on his way home from hunting. Feng Meng killed him. The murderer then ran to Hou Yi's home and forced Chang'er to give him the elixir. Without hesitating, Chang'er picked up the elixir and drunk it all.

Overcome with grief, Chang'er rushed to her dead husband's side, weeping bitterly. Soon the elixir began to have its effect and Chang'er felt herself being lifted towards Heaven.

Chang'er decided to live on the moon because it was the nearest to the earth. There she lived a simple and contented life. Even though she was in Heaven, her heart remained in the world of mortals. Never did she forget the deep love she had for Hou Yi and the love she felt for the people who had shared their sadness and happiness. It is said that Chang'er transformed herself into brilliant moonlight and descended to earth to offer good fortune. Thus, couples swear their mutual love under the full moon while separated lovers pray for reunion under the full moon.

Another legend explained the role of the Old Man on the Moon, the Divine Match-maker. The Chinese believed that marriages were made in Heaven but prepared on the moon. The Old Man on the Moon tied the feet of young men and women with red cords for marriages. Thus a maiden made offerings and prayed to him during the Mid-Autumn Festival, hoping that some day she would ride in the red bridal sedan chair.

Extracted from China Culture

Mooncakes have played a central role in Moon Festival traditions. Once, according to Chinese legend, mooncakes helped bring about a revolution.  The time was the Yuan dynasty (AD 1280-1368), established by the invading Mongolians from the north. The Mongolians subjugated the Han Chinese.

According to one Chinese folk tale, a Han Chinese rebel leader named Liu Fu Tong devised a scheme to arouse the Han Chinese to rise up against the ruling Mongols to end the oppressive Yuan dynasty. He sought permission from Mongolian leaders to give gifts to friends as a symbolic gesture to honor the longevity of the Mongolian emperor. These gifts were round mooncakes. Inside, Liu had his followers place pieces of paper with the date the Han Chinese were to strike out in rebellion -- on the fifteenth night of the eighth month.

Thus Liu got word to his people, who when they cut open the mooncakes found the revolutionary message and set out to overthrow the Mongols, thus ending the Yuan dynasty

Maybe the Oriental “Trojan Horse story” was true…

The Man - Wu Kang. Wu Kang was a shiftless fellow who changed apprenticeships all the time. One day he decided that he wanted to be an immortal. Wu Kang then went to live in the mountains where he importuned an immortal to teach him. First the immortal taught him about the herbs used to cure sickness, but after three days his characteristic restlessness returned and he asked the immortal to teach him something else. So the immortal to teach him chess, but after a short while Wu Kang's enthusiasm again waned. Then Wu Kang was given the books of immortality to study. Of course, Wu Kang became bored within a few days, and asked if they could travel to some new and exciting place. Angered with Wu Kang's impatience, the master banished Wu Kang to the Moon Palace telling him that he must cut down a huge cassia tree before he could return to earth. Though Wu Kang chopped day and night, the magical tree restored itself with each blow, and thus he is up there chopping still.

Yet another legend, The Hare - Jade Rabbit. In this legend, three fairy sages transformed themselves into pitiful old men and begged for something to eat from a fox, a monkey and a rabbit. The fox and the monkey both had food to give to the old men, but the rabbit, empty-handed, offered his own flesh instead, jumping into a blazing fire to cook himself. The sages were so touched by the rabbit's sacrifice that they let him live in the Moon Palace where he became the "Jade Rabbit."

Extracted from Chinese Fortune-Telling Calendar

Hmmm…which would you like to believe?  :-)

Me, I’m just glad the tradition lives on…

Mooncakes are available here usually 4 weeks before the actual date but I’ve seen some confectionaries selling these traditional delightfully sweet pastries as early as 8 weeks prior to the Festival. They used to fill these pastries with lotus seed paste & melon seeds, green beans (mung-beans), red-beans, some come with single or double salted egg yolks or mixed nuts & candied winter melons and snow-skin mooncake. While traditionalist may balk at the modern versions, creative bakers have recently tempted consumers with fillings like durian, tiramisu, jelly mooncake, Hagen-Dazs ice-cream, dragon-fruits, green-tea, pandan and even mocha flavours.

Mid-Autumn Festival is the 2nd most important festival after the Chinese New Year. I remembered gathering in my Grandma’s house when I was small. We’ll set up a table under the bright moonlight, enjoying mooncakes, pomelos, baby yam, ngau-kok (it's small about 4cm, looks like buffalo-horns and it’s black in colour) and colourful paper lanterns hanging along the verandah. The children could be seen carrying a lantern each walking around the neighbourhood. That’s life, growing up in a small town.

A nostalgic stroll through Petaling Street 2 weeks ago, we saw some lanterns and mooncakes sold in famous (“lou-qiu pai”, meaning old-brand) confectionaries & caf├ęs. There are some lanterns made of wire & coloured transparent paper in in the shape of dragon and butterfly, contemporary & kids-popular shape of Doraemon, Spiderman, Superman, Ben-10, Hello Kitty.

Now, Grandma is no longer here but we do still carry on the tradition of gathering, but at my Mom’s place. We’ll start with a small feast, my Mom will cook her signature dishes or we’ll have a steam boat session. :-P Last year, we had a small BBQ, some wine and a couple of neigbours dropped in and shared the worshipping of the Moon Goddess with us. My nieces, nephews, cousins and a few kids from the neighbours joined in and it was indeed a fun-time for the kids… it brought back memories of my childhood days.

I’m no longer in my pig-tails but a mama of a little boy… Max got a new lantern made by Daddy over the weekend.

I hope you will have a fun-filled family reunion and enjoy the bright beautiful moon and the many delicacies offered this weekend.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! Cheers.

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Beautiful Big Red Hibiscus

>> Sep 24, 2009

I bought a small pot of red hibiscus last month and saw the shy bud last week.

Wow...look at this beautiful big red hibiscus. It bloomed yesterday and it's still there just now, but showing signs of wilting later tonight. This species can last 2 days. It's larger than my palm.

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A nostalgic trip to Central Market and Petaling Street

>> Sep 22, 2009

After a failed trip to Hibiscus Garden (Taman Bunga Raya) in Taman Tasik Perdana which was closed for 2 days, 20-21 Sept for Hari Raya. We decided to head over to Central Market, the local centre for handicrafts, batiks and souvenirs, which is just about 1 km away. Driving in the city is relaxing on public holiday morning, when there were merely a handful of cars on the road.

It was still early, barely 10am, the centre has not fully woken up yet. As Max complained he was hungry, despite having oats and milk for breakfast this morning at 8am, we stopped by Old Town Central Market for breakfast part 2.

We ordered a Double Oldtown Toast with butter & kaya (4 pcs) for Max and thought of trying out Nan Yang Kopi ‘O’ and Rendang Chicken Rice.

The toast is crispy, toast crunch with real buttery (Old Town has partnered with pure butter, SCS) and sweet kaya spread. Max finished 2 slices and was starting on his 3rd when he spied the Rendang Chicken rice his Dad was just tucking in. Sweetly, he said, “Dad, can I try your rice?” … and that’s it! He happily finished the spicy rendang and sambal, leaving red lips but no moanings of too spicy hot. So, Dad and Mom finished his toasts instead.

In the next couple of hours, we could hear roller-shutters rolling up signaling a busy business day ahead with more tourists coming in. Some could be seen selecting souvenirs, trying out beautiful & colorful batik outfits, Chinese cheongsams, silver trinkets and ladies accessories, wooden handicrafts & traditional musical instruments, hand-made kites, local delicacies & tid-bits.

Being Hari Raya weekend, some stalls are not opened. I bought an interesting interlocking wooden puzzle egg toy for Max to unravel. I love browsing thru’ the stall in search of some gifts and home decorative items.

I re-visited the bookstore that I used to frequent many years ago during my college days. The proprietor told me they have been around for 20 over years. I got to read Tom Clancy's, John Grisham's and Sydney Sheldon's book here to name a few. They sell new magazines too. You can buy these 2nd hand books for a certain price and re-sell back to them within 1 month for a lower price after reading or you can choose to keep these 2nd hand books. Being an avid reader especially novels, I find this an excellent arrangement without my bookshelves groaning and books littering everywhere in the house.

Next, we walked over to Petaling Street, the Chinatown bazaar with lots of bargains and yummilicious food. There were fresh fruits stalls, fresh roasted chestnuts, apparels, bags, watches, traditional cookies & biscuits, tid-bits, fresh flowers, roasted duck & goose, curry puffs, dried meat & meat floss, Nike & Adidas shoes…and so much more. There’s a charm about this place that draws the crowd, both local and foreign, not just the bargain items and mooncakes or lanterns as it’s nearing Mid-Autumn (or Mooncake) Festival...

We stopped by for a must-have at Chee-Cheong-Kai, the local Chinese called it (Petaling Street), Koon Kee’s Wantan Noodle. We finished the noodle before remembering to take pictures. The springy noodle with special thick dark soy sauce accompanied by the char-siew is our favourite and right in front of the partially hidden shop is an old man selling fresh-made Chinese pancake, some called it “Apam balik”, a flat 16” (diameter) large hot plate cooked batter liberally sprinkled with sugar and coarsely chopped peanuts, folded and cut in to smaller pieces, sold for RM0.70 each. He has been there for as long as I can remember.

A couple of stalls down, we bought our favorite “Shat-ke-ma”, which is basically crispy fried bits of batter, coated with thick maltose, cooled and cut in blocks. These were my grand-mother's favorite too.

We bought a lantern in the shape of Spiderman (RM8.00) for Max and a “Choo-chai paeng” (Basket piglet) for RM1.00 from Loong Kee, all in the spirit of the coming Mid-Autmn festival. We just couldn’t resist the variety of mouth-watering pastries from Foong Wong, and bought some egg-tarts, siew-paus and plain lotus-seed mooncakes.

We left mid-afternoon when the sun was just too hot, for the cool interiors of Central Market again, then drove home, the parking came to RM9.00 for the few hours. We snacked on the yummy & very satisfying pastries we bought, on the way home.

It’s been an enjoyable family day though we couldn’t visit Hibiscus Garden but we’ll try that again another day.

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Cheerful Lantana Camara

>> Sep 20, 2009

I’ve had it for a few years in my garden without knowing its name… till I found it last night! J

I found them growing in a shrub of 2-3 feet high and can get quite unruly. I first planted them many years ago in my front yard because I love the attractive yellow color. They have aromatic flower cluster that comes in orange, pink, red, white, purple or mixture but I chose only pure yellow.

I have neighbors and passers-by stopping their car to admire the attractive bright yellow florets. It brings load of cheerfulness, just too bad it didn’t bring out the poet in them!

Lantana Camara, generally is very hardy. Their stem can be prickly and the wood is tough and durable. I understand from Wikipedia that in India, they used the tough wood in handicraft for wickerwork.

Trimming the shrub every 3 months, getting rid of dried leaves and twigs, will make way for new re-growth. I noticed that there’s always some butterflies, beetles or some birds hovering over the florets. In this tropical hot & humid climate, moderate watering daily, you will be continuously rewarded with more blooms and more smiles!

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Chilled Mango Cheesecake

Mango, a well-liked tropical fruit familiar to many.

It’s the mango season here, an aromatic tropical fruit. I love mangoes and their many varieties, the honey Chokanan (Thai’s Chauk-Anan), Elephant tusk (Thai’s Nuen Jan), Water lily, Alphonso (India’s) and the local Apple mangoes. I like it fresh, dried, juiced, in salad, in ice-cream, in sherbet, in pudding and in smoothies too.

It’s so juicy, sweet and the taste depends largely on the species, some with a tinge of sour, some has whitish flesh or pale yellow, yellow or orangy. I can even eat 2 mangoes for lunch on some days.

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Cincau jelly in soy bean milk drink

>> Sep 19, 2009

This is a very common drink in Malaysia.

In the holy month of Ramadhan, that’s when Muslims here break fast, a glass of chilled soy bean milk with grass jelly added or cincau syrup drink is much welcome at the end of a day, after a day of fasting. The cincau (grass jelly) that is black in colour is served in many restaurants and food-stalls in ABC (air batu campur, ais kacang or ice kacang or shaved ice served with red beans, syrup, milk, corn and cincau), cendol or cincau drink.

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Hibsicus' pistil & stamen

>> Sep 16, 2009

I caught  these amazing close-up of the hibiscus' pistil and stamen. These are all found in my garden.

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Travelling with a small child

I have learnt that children need distraction from boredom especially when traveling in confined space, either in the car on long-trips outstations or in a flight. This is what I usually prepare for Max, who gets pretty restless sometimes.
1.      Sketch-pad
2.      Pencils or color pencils or crayons
3.      Brain Teaser (puzzle book)
4.      Rubik cube
5.      Story-books
Many people ask me why I carry a tote bag. I need to bring along some of these stuff in there… 
Just find some used 1-sided paper which may be lying around the house, no need to get fancy sketch-pad, cut smaller to A5-size 148cm x 210cm (half of standard A4 size) which will fit into your bag comfortably. Clip them together with a binder clip with a small cardboard supporting at the back.
This will keep them occupied once the novelty of the new environment wears off or the view outside the window no longer can hold their attention.

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Braised minced pork with fried tofu (tofu-pok)

Having a picky eater in the family, I always need to come up with a kids’ favorite recipe. It has to be simple yet appetizing without laboring hours preparing in the kitchen. The ingredients are easily found too.

100g   minced pork
½ tsp salt
8 pcs   fried tofu (tofu-pok), each piece cut into 2 or 3
4 pips of garlic, chopped small
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp   sesame oil
2 tsp   light soy sauce
1 tsp   oyster sauce
2 cups water

1.   Mix in salt in the minced pork, set aside.
2.   Heat oil in a non-stick wok. Stir-fry garlic for 1 minute.
3.   Add in minced pork, break up with spatula if lumped and stir-fry till cooked.
4.   Add in sesame oil and stir for another 2 minutes.
5.   Add in tofu-pok pieces, stir.
6.   Add in seasonings of soy sauce & oyster sauce. Your kitchen will be filled with aroma from the sauces & will reach the living room…ha-ha-ha.
7.   Add in water, bring to boil.
8.   Lower the flame to small, cover and let it simmer for 40-50 minutes, till the tofu-pok soften and becomes spongy.
9.   Check and make sure the gravy doesn’t dry up.
10.  Dish up and serve warm with rice.

Kids will like this appetizing & tasty dish as the minced pork is not chunky and chewy.

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Beach Holiday on Langkawi Island

>> Sep 15, 2009

Max got a surprise during the recent school term break.

Max loves the beach, sand-castle, shells, sunshine… so Langkawi it is, far enough to fly & short enough for him to enjoy his first ever flying trip. My hubby and I were re-visiting Langkawi Island for the 3rd time.

A very memorable holiday for us, since it rained on Day 2 till Day 4…even when the plane lifted into the grey skies!

On arrival, we took a taxi to the hotel. The taxi ride is RM20.00 for the 15-minutes ride to Holiday Villa in Pantain Tengah, located in south-west of the island, with neighboring hotels like Frangipani, The Lanai and Tropical Resort. 

The sprawling Holiday Villa Beach Resort & Spa has a fairly relaxed setting in lush tropical garden with each of its 258-rooms open to own private balconies. Lots of bunga raya (hibiscus) as hedges leading to the beach and along the garden path, near the pool. I noticed there were lots of heliconias too. The beach is beautiful, not crowded, with quite fine white sand. If all you want is beach-sea-sand holiday, this is a good location. There are some restaurants across the road and further up.

We dropped our bags in our room, put on our swimsuits, slather on sun-block and head out to the beach. There’s something about the sea and small rolling waves that beckon to us to play in the surf…

The sunset on Day 1 weren’t perfect but we had a great time, making footprints in the wet sand, watching it washed away by the waves and we played a game of looking for buried slippers. Max’s happy laughter and chuckles could be heard as he played with his father.

Me, I’m just contented with watching the yellow ball of sun dipping further down in the horizon, slowly making way for total darkness of the nightfall. The warm breeze as it blew from the sea brought calmness to me… bringing back memories of my childhood days growing up in a seaside town. Having settled in the big city now, I realized I missed the beach so much.

The hotel’s Mario’s Italian Restaurant serves very good white sauce pasta and lasagna. We cleaned the plates before remembering to take pictures as we were just too hungry.

The next morning, we were up early at 7am, beautiful sunshine, very excited at the thought of spending the whole day at the beach. Looking out, we were pleasantly surprised to see a pair of naughty hornbills sitting at our neighbor’s balcony, knocking on the glass door. They were only 3m away. I think I had a good shot, but I was so nervous in case they flew away before I captured them in my little Canon. (Canon Powershot A700)


After a leisurely breakfast in Lagenda Coffee House, we changed & headed to the beach again. Max was playing at the water’s edge and scouting for seashells with his Dad. 

I was enjoying the lazy day on the sun lounger, wrapped fashionably in my colorful Noor Arfa hand-drawn batik beach pareo. A pair of sunglasses shielding my eyes, a copy of Elle in my hands and did I mention a glass of chilled OJ on the side-table? What an idyllic holiday…! I think I only needed a hammock to complete the settings.

Some young guys were enjoying the rush of adrenalin on jet-skis, a couple of guys trying out para-sailing, a few bikini-clad bodies & hunks toasting in the hot sun, lulled by the gentle sway of palm fronds overhead, I was beginning to think it’s paradise indeed…

Till my tummy rumbled, it’s lunch-time. OK, time to feed the little prince, somehow he has forgotten all about food while he’s busy building his sand-castle.

There was a humidity in the air that signaled an on-coming storm, a look to the right, showed grey clouds hovering near the airport direction. We were reluctant to leave the beach but ended up soaked to our skin, fleeing into the hotel.

We waited for the rain to stop but it didn’t, so we took a taxi to the Underwater World, wanting to catch the penguins-feeding. We were not disappointed. We saw a performance by the seals with their trainer and one in particular showed off to his audiences, zooming in the waters. It’s amazing watching those adorable looking African penguins getting fed. We could watch them swimming, as we walked in the glass tunnel. “Surf up” Cody, the rock-hopper penguin was there, looking quite wise with his yellow eyebrow.

We saw Mr Ray (the stingray character in Finding Nemo) gliding through the waters, some huge and bored-looking groupers and spotted a white-tip shark too.

Nearing the exit a very graceful white and translucent jellyfish with their ‘lacy’ tendrils could be seen in a blue tank and a moving seaweed, on closer inspection was actually a seaweed seahorse.

We took home Mumble, (Happy Feet) a small souvenir for Max.

“Oh, there’s still a drizzle, Mom” the discouraged voice of Max could be heard. We waited and shortly the sky seemed to have let up. A short stroll through the wet street of Pantai Cenang, air still damp from the recent rain, we found a small little restaurant serving fish-n-chips, surprisingly it’s quite good. We also had a strawberry milk shake for the little one. We left after that, disappointed that we couldn’t explore the street with the many little charming shops.

Day 3, was worse, it was drizzling, raining, pouring, trickling…well, wet the whole day. There’s no point renting a car to go anywhere. There was NatGeo education time on TV, 11-pages homework, Tom-&-Jerry on TV, Brain Teasers, Discovery Channel and story-telling… and more hotel food.

I decided to pamper myself with a blissful session at Amoaras Spa...

Day 4, was not better. After breakfast, we packed our bags, giving the beach one last look of sadness,“Dad, we haven’t finished building our sand-castle!” And, left for the airport intending to hang around there till our evening flight. One part of the road to the airport was flooded with 2 feet deep waters, the padi fields around there was like one large lake.

Our 4-days stay there weren’t too bad. I guess the warm friendly smiles of people somewhat made up for the wet-days. Apparently August is not a good month to go to Langkawi, wet season. I didn’t get any tan lines to show I had a beach holiday !

So, what are we gonna do this long weekend of Hari Raya...? Maybe paint the fence & gate and just might get a good tan! :-)

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