Sunday, January 30, 2011

Boleh Makan!!!

Boleh Makan is a phrase I use very often here, since it translates to "can eat". Maybe everyone is tired of me rubbing in just how good I'm eating here. Too bad, because this is going to be another post about my foodie adventures here in Kuching. I can only offer to [try to] learn the culinary traditions of Sarawakians, and to bring them back to test out on whoever's epicurious back home. Deal? 

Friday the 28th turned out to be a big day for me in terms of food. I had stayed up late the night before, baking some amaretto coffee molasses cookies (in the end needed more amaretto because the taste was a bit lacking) as a Chinese New Year treat for everyone at SBC. I think I've mastered the art and science of making cookie dough (it's really really easy if you keep a few things in mind), but not the discipline needed to resist eating a substantial amount of it before baking. So cookies disappeared in no time; it seems word of free food gets around fast at SBC. That makes the baking all the more rewarding. 

Then I was called to the Extraction lab, where the research assistants there were stir frying some live Sago Worms. Why in the world do this in a chemical extraction laboratory? These worms, the grubs of larvae of Sago Palm Weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus), thrive in the trunks of Sago Palm, and are regarded as a fine delicacy among many people here. They are considered clean and safe enough to eat live (so long as you wash them, and make sure to put them in tail first, pulling/biting off the head before fully munching on the body). Some horror stories exist and describe children just dropping in the worms whole, being victim to the burrowing abilities of the worm. The worms are often stir-fried for a bit before consuming, and in some cases with additions of Sago Flour, lemongrass, garlic, or bbq/terriyaki sauce. Stir frying the worms also helps to release all of their oils, which are thought by many people here to possess important medicinal applications. One belief is that their oil can regrow hair. Well, our extraction lab wants to begin the investigation of these reported properties, and so hence the stir frying action. And, well, I was called in to sample these slithery little beasts, an did so with just a little reservation. They ended up being quite nice, easy to chew, with the innards somewhat avocado-like in texture and taste.  I would say fry those babies up in some garlic, oil, and salt, and you've won me over. I was told it was a mistake to not eat the head, as many say this adds some goodness to the taste and texture. I had a few ideas for dishes to incorporate these worms into:
Sago Worm Kebab
Sago Worm Potato Gnocci, with an alfredo sauce.  Actually pesto could be even better. It's just that the worms look a lot like gnocci without the heads (and, like the moving around business) and somehow I see those flavors gelling really well together. 
Sago Worm Fritters, with Chili-lime-honey dipping sauce.

Sago Worm Greek Salad. I think the mix of Feta, olives and worms could be a dynamite combo.

 I gave some half-promises that I might try these worms live, before going back home. I'll let that idea simmer in my mind for a while before going through with it. I'm always afraid that my clumsy fingers might get me  burrowed through, if you catch my drift. 
I am very curious to find out if there is any merit to the claims about Sago Worm oil. I've been monitoring my hairline around the clock since my experience. 

Next, Gilbert and I were on the way home, when he noticed some people selling durians out of the back of their car, parked on the side of the road (Very normal thing to see) around 10 mile. He immediately made a U-turn and rushed back to get one. You see, this is a moment I've longed for for months. Normally durian season begins around December, but it has been very wet for this time of the year, so all fruiting seasons have been put out of whack. This one was expensive for durian in Kuching, selling at about RM20 (~$6), whereas they normally can go for way less (as low as RM1 in high fruiting season). I did not care one bit, nothing would stop me from having my first one. The man selling them opened one up to show off it's good quality (since otherwise there is no way of knowing whether the inside is rotted/overfermented/infested with larvae that got into the fruit during pollination). Back home, we cracked it open, and boy, was I psyched for this moment. I grabbed some flesh, just a bit creamy on the outside, and first took in the aroma. To me, it gave off a distinctive aroma, with almond and terpentine characters to it. Haters of the durian claim it smells of rotting onions, terpentine, gym socks, stale vomit, and many other unflattering odors. I was unfazed and actually kind of drawn to it, so I gave it a nibble. I think the look on my face told it all. I was in heaven. Gilbert immediately photographed my reaction, in which I think I teared from just how good it was. Imagine a very creamy almond vanilla custard with some flowery notes to it as well. I immediately gobbled down the rest and pursued more. I could not have been in a happier, satisfied mood thereafter. But then the burps started. 

Durians are well known for their easily fermentable nature, due to the microbes and high caloric content of the flesh (maybe the enclosed environment inside the fruit helps as well). They are known to cause some serious gas issues upon eating, can lead to some drunkenness if enough is eaten, and are often fermented into wines. They are called "King of Fruits" in Asia, because they are considered to be 'heaty' in how they affect the body. People report sweating quite a bit after eating them. But also people here know very well the potential dangers of mixing durian with other heaty foods, in particular alcohol. Other than the gassiness that can reach dangerous levels when the two are mixed, some studies have found that compounds in durian inhibit aldehyde dehydrogenase activity, which is needed to clear toxins of alcohol breakdown ( Some old wives' tales may not be so mythical after all, but may hold some real truth that could save your life. To counteract the 'heatiness' of durian, some follow it with water, mint tea, or mangosteen, which is known as "Queen of the Fruits, " for its potent cooling qualities.

We did not, and instead went to have some tasty curry pan mee (though I did drink the cooling cincau, pronounced 'chinchou', drink). Then it was off to McGregor's Old English Pub to meet up with some other colleagues. We did not have so much durian that we needed to worry so much about mixing it with beers, but did still feel my body overheating. Also this is going to sound a bit strange, though not unusual for me, but I actually was really happy to be burping my brains out. It let me enjoy the taste and smell of the durian over and over again for like an hour or two.
You know some food left an impression on you if you actually want to burp to have another taste of it.

In talking about Durian, I mentioned this idea of heaty vs. cooling foods. This Chinese concept permeates the culinary landscape (and conversations about ailments) here in Kuching and in many other Asian countries. Basically the idea is that certain foods/ingredients contribute a 'heatiness' quality to the final dish (or when eaten by themselves are heaty), others are 'cooling', and some others are neutral, with a good balance of heaty and cool. This translates into the Chinese term for heaty (yang) meaning the set of physical or emotional symptoms one gets if heaty food is not well balanced by cool food. Cool (Yin), likewise stands for the set of symptoms one acquires having an imbalance of cool energy (see  for more). In many ways the symptoms make some sense from the concepts underlying them, as one might expect heatiness to lead to overactive metabolic rates, hyper-activated adrenaline response, and cholinergic type response (activating the parasympathetic system through acetylcholine receptors) of increased salivations and excretions; and overly cooling effects to lead to low energy/metabolic/behaviorally depressed states. Also interesting is that sometimes this characteristic of food can change upon specific types of cooking method (beef is neutral normally, but becomes heaty when deep fried).

I've been thinking that so many of my posts are about food, perhaps my blog should be retitled, "Lucid Eating". Then again, that would require me to be more health conscious here- something that is not really possible due to the cooking styles employed here. My only criticism of food is that it is too good and just does not inspire one any health consciousness, and basically no one is health conscious in the Western sense, though they are quite conscious of the heaty/cooling balance. There are few, if any, real health-conscious and still delicious food options. This is why the rates of obesity (6th highest in Asia, WHO), diabetes (4th highest in Asia, 80% increase in 10 years:, hypertension/Cardiovascular disease are fast on the rise here. Another factor contributing to this is that city-dwelling people all have cars now and do not get much exercise. Bikers/runners are a rarity and are thought of as kind of quirky for wanting to get around this way, rather than by motor vehicle. I wonder if there could be better programs to inspire a love of exercise in more people. I still need to find out what type of health education and physical education schools provide kids at younger ages, because I'm unsure of what this aspect of education here looks like. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

monkeying around

Just a brief blurb about something I saw at a food court a week or two ago and more so my feelings on the matter. This Chinese man had a pet monkey (I think a Gibbon, but unsure), dressed in human clothes, chained by it's neck to him. When I saw it, my stomach felt literally sick with disgust and hate for that's weird, the type of physiological response I had...literally felt an unbearable mix of disgust, depression, and adrenaline fueled anger at this guy for enslaving a monkey. But then I got to thinking about this. And it still sucks, it's still terrible, just that I find it so strange how my mind and body responded to a primate being chained up in this way, while dogs on leashes, cats in a purse, hamsters in cages, etc. get nothing in the ways of remorse in most cases. Actually they often get the opposite response, as in many case I and most other people would come up to pet a cute looking dog. You see you can always rationalize something like this, but I feel like the physiological response is the real tell of how we feel at our core, so to speak. All of our internal, hidden, biases come out. Or maybe it's just memories tied to emotionally charged experiences we have earlier in our lives.

So, does our body decide to react in this way based on evolutionary understanding? That monkeys are sort of evolutionary cousins (or maybe uncles, i really forget how it works) to us, while non-primate mammals are more like 3rd or 4th cousins...does our mind feel some sort of special remorse for monkeys based our own anthropomorphic fantasies? That because it peels a banana with its fingers and can learn how to use a currency system (Super Freakanomics) it must have some secrets to our own behavior and culture, meaning in some senses we are enslaving one of our own? And if that's the case you would think all mammals would get that remorse, with the whole breastfeeding business.
I wonder what percent of people would have a physiologically negative response to seeing what I saw or seeing any animal on a leash, and for those who respond in such a way, when is it programmed for us to react in such a way? When is remorse for other animals developed? Is it a learned reaction based on increased learning of our relationships to these primates?

Well, just some thoughts I've been having. Becoming aware of these feelings definitely made me feel guilty for how ok my body (though not my mind) is with seeing some animals on a leash, while others (I don't do so well at zoos unless I know the animal's population is being rehabilitated by the zoo after overhunting in the wild) produce such a strong response. This might sound like the weirdest thing to wish for, but sometimes I do wish i felt a guttural, physiological sickness at the sight of any any animal (and not just primates) that is somehow restrained/chained by people.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The art and science of jungle trekking

I first thought about writing this post in October, when I was trekking up in the Bornean Highlands in the swampy Montane/Submontane forests of Paya Maga. I noticed that the others in my group seemed to know the importance of a walking stick and knew exactly how to pick out the best one. Then I've noticed and have been to seriously revere the trekking abilities of people here. I'm so impressed by some of the people (mostly the 'indigenous' groups, but definitely other like Malay and Chinese) here navigate the rainforest. it's beyond just a familiarity one might gain from doing something day in and day out. It's a feel, a sixth sense, almost as if they can listen to what words of wisdom the rainforest can offer them. It emerges also out of a deep reverence for the biodiversity and beauty this place holds. And with these skills, they are able to maintain a keen eye for potentially dangerous animals (or dinner) hiding nearby. Or quickly climb a tree to grab at a nutritious midday snack. Or just run through the forest (regardless of steepness or obstacles), instead of inching ahead sluggishly like I do.

I think throughout the rest of the year, I will try to compile in this post the various lessons I've learnt about jungle trekking. Even if I cannot exactly follow these important lessons.

1. Every step you take, do it with confidence. Don't be a helpless victim of your feet, just strolling away carelessly. Put some thought into your steps (Be Mindful and Aware of surroundings, especially the ground beneath you). Otherwise you might end up falling through some weak spots in the trail, or just tripping up and falling to a precipitous death. Basically every other less I've learned follows from this advice, and should be more or less obvious.  
  •  If you're uneasy about a step, surely your feet will not be stable and in general you are more likely to slip or lose balance
  • If you can be confident about step, then hopefully it means you have assessed whether the ground/rocks you are stepping on will remain stable under your weight. 
  • Even though you are confident about the step, if are going downhill, make sure you keep your weight back. definitely commit to the step, but you also don't want to destabilize yourself by moving from your center of gravity. 

 2. See each step you take long before you take it. Do not just walk constantly looking down, but rather see the steps you'll be taking some distance in front of you, so you're mind and feet can plan. Also that way you'll avoid walking into trees, people, snakes (cleverly disguised as roots under your feet, WHAT??!!!) waiting to attack. You should also avoid playing iPhone games or texting while on the trail. 
  • this is really an extension of being mindful and aware of surroundings. It takes time, but you'll need to be able to assess the entire scene around you. This will help you plan out each step, for example,  whether it's ok to grab onto that tree (you should ask yourself:  Will that tree hold my weight and extra tug I'm going to give it? as well as Does the tree have some sharp spines or dangerous critters lurking in it?)  to boost yourself with.   
  • in general avoid grabbing things you have not thoroughly investigated yet. This should be a piece of advice followed by every living thing on Earth, but especially humans, who seem not to have entirely internalized this lesson.           

3. Natives who jungle trek everyday dont have much use for walking sticks, but they can be useful at times, if only to beat down some quickly approaching danger. 
  •  Of course the stick needs to be appropriate for your height, and should be of a sturdy material, and flexibility of any kind is strongly discouraged  for your stick. 
  • There is a 'right' way to use a walking stick, so that it becomes your best ally rather than just a random piece of wood you're lugging for no good reason. 
  • It might seem surprising, but there are commercially sold walking sticks that look quite a bit like skiing poles
  • I had this thought the other day: There really should be multipurpose walking sticks. why not have a walking stick that is also a tripod/monopod for a camera that can also have a pop out knife at the push of a button? There could even be paddle adaptors in case you need to make a raft and paddle across some water. 
4. Try to develop the jungle sense 

  • I cannot quite convey how this is done, since I have yet to acquire it, but the natives seem to develop this innate sense for where is safe to go in the jungle
  • They can often tell which path will lead them in the 'right' direction, or can tell if, say  the base of a waterfall is rocky or clear (without actually going in to test it out) 
  • Probably growing up in a jungle helps a lot, but for us outsiders, getting a 'sense' for the jungle means understanding the potential signs of danger ahead (weak patches of ground; dark, calm pools of water suggest absence of rocks; shed skin of snakes lying around might indicate a snake's proximity) 
  • Also spending more time in rainforests can help one develop the 'eye' and 'ear' of a good jungle trekker. This means being able to spot organisms; whether big or small, breathing or photosynthetic, cloaked by leaves or other objects, or hidden in enclosed crevices or perched atop trees. 
5. Follow jungle etiquette 

  •  There is a widely held belief among the people here that living, sentient, forces pervade the fabric and ever object within the forest. This has serious implications for how one should conduct him/herself while in the forest. 
  • For one, any type of littering will anger the forest spirits and can lead you to either get lost in the jungle forever or to encounter some very dangerous animal that could mortally injure you
  • Another thing to keep in mind is to 'ask permission' from the jungle spirits before making the jungle your own personal toilet bowl. 
  • Moreover, shouting is discouraged for similar reasons of upsetting jungle spirits. 
  • Lastly, it is thought that uttering the name of certain organisms common to the jungle (i.e. poisonous snake, leopard) might actually summon those animals to confront you. So unless you want a cobra on your ass, don't say "Cobra". 

Ok, I'll be updating this post as I find out more on these very important topics. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Friendly Neighborhood Spider

First off, I have so many half-written posts and well, one of these next few days, I 'm hoping to finish them. I guess I'm in a bit of a slump in my time here. Part of it is how much I enjoyed being back home in my month long interview 'circuit'. And having to leave again has been a little hard on me, since my first few months in Borneo really made it clear to me how lucky I am to have all the family and friends that I do.  In some senses the 'newness' of Kuching is fading away, as I've become familiar with customs, the way of life, food, more food, and the mentality here. Don't get me wrong; I still love it here and am enjoying myself, just that it's requiring a little more initiative from me to seek out cool new experiences. I'm craving trips to some new places, but the monsoon season is at odds with that. Instead of spreading out my travels, they'll all come in a few grand trips (March is going to be a big traveling month), when the weather has improved. To try to combat this slump, I'm trying to look out for new and exciting experiences or sights in daily life here.

Spider under some short wave UV light
It turns out I need not look beyond the front gate of Gilbert's driveway. Early this week, we found this ~3 cm long (body) neon yellow giant propped comfortably against it's unique web. Though it was no Acromantula, this one seemed pretty big as far as I've seen here. What was cool were some white strips on its body that seemed to glow in the dark (In the end, those strips turned out to just be very light reflective). I brought out the tripod and started snapping away. Since it was already dark, I took out the flash, and then also experimented with the UV lamp. It turns out most spiders' bodies glow or are fluorescent under UV. The next day the spider changed sides, and then the day after moved to the other side of the gate. What's amazing to me is how the web was completely gone where the spider had been the night before. And then for some reason, the spider just went back to its original position the next day. I wonder if it breaks down that original web and completely remakes it? And what's the stability of the web once it is spun? Can the spider adjust the strength and elasticity of the web according to the environment? I assume yes (because insects are just that amazing), but wonder how the spider even senses the environment and consciously affects it's own biochemistry. I clearly should have taken an entomology class because I have a soft spot in my heart for insect biology. As long as they keep their greasy, slimy legs off my chocolate souffle.

Friday, January 14, 2011

King of the Hill

So my month long stay in the U.S. has gotten me way out of shape. Sure interviews were a totally exhausting experience, but much more mentally than physically, leaving my body to atrophy a bit. Good thing then that a week after I came back, a bunch of us from SBC (Gilbert, Holed, Sabda, and Sukri) decided to climb Mount Santubong, a pretty tough 2-3 hr. hike up. (~2600ft) around 35 km north of Kuching city. Before describing our trek, I want to briefly mention some etymological/historical significance of this mountain. First off, let me quote Wikipedia for the Etymology of Santubong: "According to the Encyclopaedia of Iban Studies the original inhabitants of Santubong were the Iban. Si-antu-ubong means 'spirit boat' in the Iban language. Antu is hantu in Malay which means spirit or ghost. Santubong are boat like coffins made from a single hollow log designed to represent the vesell in which a dead person will travel from this world to afterlife. Following another theory, the name Santubong is derived from "san choo bong" in the Hakka Chinese dialect, meaning "wild pig king" or "king of wild pig" "
Based on the first two translations of the name, my prospects did not seem too good for making this trek.

Another thing I've read about is that Alfred Russel Wallace wrote the 'prequel' to his theory of biological evolution based on studies he conducted on the animals in Santubong ( , via Kind of cool to know that the biodiversity in this place could inspire Wallace's mind to think of evolution, or to at least gear his mind up for that. But then again, I'm a science nerd, and this wouldn't get most people nearly as excited as it did me.

All geared up with water, bread, biscuits and canned sambal (the stuff of champions I tell you), we started the hike. I won't give you a minute by minute report of the entire trek, but I'll say that the first half is not so tough compared to the second part, at which point things get pretty steep. Luckily the thickset roots of the many trees surrounding us could be used as natural ladders. I dropped all attempts to hike up upright, rather I was on all fours grabbing and climbing these incredibly sturdy roots. It's always funny the transformation that one might undergo during a trek- at first you think you can keep your hands clean and just move with your feet. Oh how erroneous this thinking becomes, as it did when I started climbing this steep section of the mountain. And it really did not take long for me to feel comfortable with the combination of dirt-covered hands and waterfall of sweat that was my body. For some reason, climbing in this really involved manner made me feel closer to the rainforest, as if I were going back to my roots, and could re-imagine myself relying on this jungle for my sustenance and survival. I would have no problem just eating grass raw at this point.

Then there was a series of wooden+rope ladders, and eventually we reached the summit at around the 2.5hr mark (we were faster than the expected 3-4 hour walk, so I was pretty happy). And let me tell you I was exhausted at this point. My knees weren't trembling just yet, but the intense muscle soreness had set in, likely from a deluge of lactic acid flooding those tissues. We did not spend all too long at the top, maybe 30-40 minutes at most. We munched on our bread and canned fishy goodies, drank some water, and snapped some shots.

It just was not too pretty up there- the view of Kuching was cool, but the overcast sky made it less than ideal and convinced us that a downpour would hit us soon. So we rushed down. I'm not terrified of heights, but I do take my sweet time going down. Combined with my aching, trembling, knees and ankles, this trip down was pretty bad. Sabda, Sukri, and Holed waited around an hour for us at the base. it took us around 2 hours to make it down. Gilbert and I were relieved to make it down, and we lucked out big time that it did not rain. Going down was scary enough, without having any slippery surface to worry about. I did feel like I had so much to learn about proper trekking technique, though I've made some progress from day 1 of my time in Borneo. I think I need to make sure I keep my weight back, and spend more time looking at the path ahead to plan my steps in advance. Doing these things better should improve my stability, while speeding up my hiking pace.

After suffering through this hike, I was on cloud 9. Endorphins were flowing; I was high

How did we treat ourselves afterwards? Nothing says "No Pain, no Gain" like KFC's spicy fried chicken and cheesy wedges. It was all worth the agony once we sat down.

And it only took about 3 days for the soreness to disappear.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

biking and dogs, again

Yep, I know I've mentioned this topic a few times. But despite even having it down in words, I keep going out to bike at night. It's weird. I'm weird I guess. And those animals are rabid mongrels, not normal dogs. All the dogs in this region must somehow be in cahoots, since every time I go out, there seem to be larger and larger groups of them chasing me at a single point in my journey. I mean for the most part, my rides are calm and chill, but then there is always a 500 m dash in which we are neck and neck, and it would be too easy for the dog(s) to just sink their teeth into my succulent cheeseburger-fed flesh. I've gotten away scratch free every time, and haven't even noticed any real attempts to bite. It's been chasing at maximum speed, and of course raucous uncoordinated barking. But I'm figuring these dogs out. For one, this chase always happens when there is a strong streetlight nearby. I think dogs have very poor night vision, as they bark but don't bother chasing me when they notice my lights in pitch darkness. This wouldn't even be an issue if dog owners treated their dogs with a gram of decency. Many owners subject their dogs to pretty shitty conditions, often not providing food or drink for days at a time, and keeping pups locked up in kennels. Otherwise, they just let the dogs loose, which is good for the dog because of the freedom, but of course also means they can transmit disease (i.e. rabies), and can't quite fend for food themselves due to their human upbringing. Also they are a menace to the very few people crazy and stupid enough to be outside unprotected by metal and glass. I hope they're just playing and don't intend on biting that case it's all good fun. I mean their chasing is just the motivation I need to turn a leisurely bike ride into an intense workout. It also makes me feel that ubber-awareness I like so much, since I become so much more attentive to sounds(barking in the distance), sights (small dog-sized objects moving in the distance tips me off), and of course my own body's response to the real threat fast approaching me. I guess I really am an adrenaline junkie of sorts. Still, I might invest in some tennis balls and dog treats to carry on hand. I mean if i average one encounter a night and I bike 4 times a week, I only need to have like a few hundred distracting objects to throw at them. Or maybe install an emergency motor on my bike. How great would it be if i could just turn on the NOS during one of these episodes?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Kuching: The Cat City

I encountered this dog while walking back from the Sarawak State Museum. He looked so hopeless and captured at least half of the story of canines in Kuching. The other half of the story is tough to capture, since I'm usually on my bike bookin' it in order to not become a rabies zombie.
This totem stands right outside to the Sarawak Ethnology Museum. Origins uncertain, and for some reason the lights near the totem are prone to vandalism, hence the cages..
Kuching City (or "Divisional") Mosque near the open air market.

I've been planning a trip on my own into downtown Kuching for a while. Finally found which bus I need to catch and when. In less populated areas outside the city, there is a mobile bus stop policy, in that the driver stops wherever people are standing idly. I made sure to make eye contact with driver and wave him over to stop. He had no problem understanding that I wanted to go to the downtown area, near the waterfront. An hour later I was there. All the horror stories of bus transit in Kuching were overblown...sure it took like 30 minutes longer than a car and I the bus made a big circle, passing some of the same stops twice, but what's new? Many buses I've taken in Western countries have the same issues. I'll take it! It's still pretty convenient. 

I arrived near the famed Sin Kwang Heng open air food market on Jalan Market (Market Street, go figure). Walked around the area meandering through India Street (named for the most common ethnicity of its shop owners), with all of its antique and handicraft shops (Many very cool objects created by the indigenous groups in Sarawak). Must return here for souvenir shopping later on. Snapped some touristy photos of the waterfront, the beautiful Sarawak State Legislative Assembly Building, and the sampans (wooden river boat, locally called 'tampangs') bringing mostly townees across the river. I'd been on one months ago though; don't really understand why tourists hesitate to make the trip across.

Then the rain came, and there was nowhere to hide. I ran in the direction of the Kuching City Mosque, and then found my way to the very famous Sarawak Museum, considered to be one of the best in SE Asia. The museum complex has a number of buildings devoted to different aspects of Sarawak, from natural history (basically an entire exhibit of ~ten million-year old fossilized tree trunks) to ethnology. For basically all of the museums, I was the lone tourist wandering around. It was weird for museums with such a beautiful and rich display of exhibits, containing wonderful handicrafts, sculptures, tapestries, ornaments, traditional wear of every one of Sarawak's ethnic groups (generally agreed upon number of groups is in the mid 20s-30s, but some claim that this number might go as high as 70, when nomadic peoples are considered). Also there was this captivating exhibit about archeological discoveries in the Niah Caves in Northern Sarawak. Those caves were found to contain all sorts of proof that people did live in Borneo tens of thousands of years ago. It had been previously thought that  people could not survive in jungles during those primitive times, because they had not developed the tools or intelligence to do so. Turns out that theory was way narrow-minded on all fronts. Big surprise there.

On my way to enjoying the spice of life at Life Cafe  (described in a whole separate post), I stumbled upon two great photography subjects. First a dog, very sadly chained up to his owner's gate door. Seeing this made me think of how dog owners here do not treat dogs with much decency. Sometimes they cage the puppies up and don't let them out for days, often neglecting to feed them or provide water. If not caged up outside, dogs are allowed to roam the streets, but seem to find their way back home in many cases. This one was too dejected to even make a peep or flinch as I approached it, even though the strays here would have made a hell of a ruckus. I thought that combined with the graffiti and peeling paint on the door behind it, the dog's image symbolized a sad facet of reality in Kuching.
Literally 50 m from the dog, I encountered this cooky-looking black bird with a yellow beak. 
What jumped out at me, as it was hopping around, was how amazing the bird looked standing on the yellow line of the black road.I fumbled for my camera and got a pic, but the bird came out blurry...booo. It flew away before I could adjust the focus. Would have been a cool image otherwise. Well I guess I'm still an amateur, but I knew that already. I guess spotting a good photo opp is half the battle, right?

Ok, then I had my Life Cafe noodles and did a night walk along the waterfront. The Kuching Waterfront really lights up at night, and is great for walking or just sitting back to enjoy the sights. 
If only I could have captured this Tampang man with less blurriness. Knew the tripod would have been useful.

  Kuching literally means Cat in the Bahasa Melayu (Malay) language. There are three separate cat statues all within a few blocks of each other. Around festive seasons they are adorned by special cat statue apparel. Will try to catch it next time, and with festive occasions always around the corner in Sarawak, should be very soon.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Life [Cafe] Is Good

This is a photo of the Life Cafe Spicy Noodles, prior to mixing (sauce+minced meat at the bottom of the bowl) Once mixed spending time on another photo was the furthest thought in my mind...
Life Cafe is this Taiwanese tea (why not 'Life Tea House' then?) and noodle house in Kuching. Life Cafe's Spicy Noodles are well known around town, with this modified version of Sichuan Mala, a mixture of spicy chilis and Sichuan peppercorns, which numb your lips ( numbing component= hydroxy-alpha-sanshool) to diminish the pain of eating the hot chillis. While I was walking around in Kuching, I decided I wanted my 5th helping in these months I've living in Kuching. Suffice to say, I'm addicted to these noodles and spicy food in general. The excitement I had waiting for these noodles to come was very physiological, not just mental. I was not so different from a heroin addict about to get his/her fix. Actually I think from now on I will begin to justify eating spicy food for the capsaicin fix. I mean capsaicin is thought to activate pain pathways that lead to release of endorphins, our brain-made opiates. Interesting to think about that: getting addicted to chemicals/physical activities that indirectly cause your brain to pump out its own opiates. Maybe the answer is to carry around a dropper bottle containing spicy chillis dissolved in oil. I won't leave home without it.

But there's more to it (Yes, this is where I go into how spicy food makes me more lucid in day-to-day life). Eating spicy food makes me super aware of my body, my neuropharmacoloy, and of the interaction between plant-derived chemicals and my taste receptors/nervous system. It is that very awareness that makes me feel more lucid (as in lucid living) and alive. As my mouth sizzles and pops, I become especially appreciative of the body I've been given, the ability to enjoy tastes and smells in general, and then also find it awe-inspiring that plants have adapted their secretory pathways to our sensory and reward systems (or maybe the other way around, not sure if anyone even knows)in such cool ways. Here's something to think about: capsaicin, the main spicy component of chillis, binds the same receptors (of the Trp family of receptors) that sense heat and can transmit that same sensation to the brain. Why is it that the spiciest (containing the most Capsaicin) peppers (i.e. Habaneros, Thai Scotch Bonnet, Jalapenos)tend to grow in the hottest climates, while the sweetest (lacking capsaicin) are in more temperate climates (Sweet Italian, Bell peppers from Holland, the Mediterranean basin and California)? Menthol is of course the other side of the equation. It comes from mint (Mentha spp.) and binds to human receptors (in taste buds and skin) typically used for detecting cold temperature. And guess what? It grows all over the temperate parts of the world, with most species growing quite well in cool climates.  Moreover, capsaicin is known to cause inflammation in your digestive tract (hence the bad case of the "runs" the next day), while menthol has been shown to protect against inflammation (this is why pretty much every cigarette out there has at least trace amounts of menthol, despite not being advertised on the pack).  Is there anything to this trend? Maybe the compounds are more stable at the temperatures they typically mimic when interacting with our bodies. Wouldn't that be something?