December 31, 2008

Last Night...

I woke up to a rustling in our Bungalow. After lying awake for a good long while, staring at the ceiling, trying to ignore the large animal scratching and clawing above my head, my companions stirred.

I couldn't help myself: "There's something in here," I whispered.

Then we all sat listening, until Sulli was brave enough to call for the light. We put pillows over our heads (in case it was startled and lost its grip), flipped the switch and dared each other to take a peak.

Turns out it was on the roof.

Read Em and Weep

I've been doing a lot of reading on this trip, mostly due to lengthy travel times and so much time spent on the beach. I finished Michael Pollan's excellent In Defense of Food on the airplane. I then tackled The Echomaker by Richard Powers--the tale of a young man who suffers a brain injury and the onset of Capgras Syndrome, a disorder that causes him to believe those closest to him (his sister, his dog) are highly accurate impostors. Then I delved into The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. I read Michael Chabon's latest, The Yiddish Policeman's Union, a couple months ago and loved it. So Jewy. This one was a bit less so but still touched on many of my late father's favorite themes: Jews, Brooklyn, The Holocaust, Talmud, Midrash, Yiddish, Jews. The novel was astounding, and left me endlessly in awe of Chabon's God-like imagination.

I didn't expect to finish the 650 page tome so quickly, so I was left book-less in Lanta. Yesterday, picked up a copy of Cormac McCarthy's The Road at a local coffee shop. I finished it this afternoon. What am I to do now?

December 26, 2008

Take That, Eli

My brother says I've been blogging too much about food. He can suck it.

Last night we went to a local seafood restaurant that had been recommended by an Australian woman who lives here full-time. She said the place surpasses its competitors (and stays cheap) by employing it's own fleet of boats daily.

At the entrance were piles of fresh fish, prawns, squid, clams and rays. You pick what you want, and they cook it for you. We started off with chicken satay and then enjoyed grilled squid in "local sauce," a mild and tasty curry with carrots and red onion, and a whole grilled local tuna with a kick-ass garlic rub. The fish also came with a fresh chili sauce dotted with tomatoes and onion that was spicy enough to hurt people.

Overall, it was one of our best meals to date.

Malay Cats Have Strange Tails

There are lots of cats wandering around the island of Langkawi (and Malaysia in general). It's awesome. Many have shorter than normal tails with kinks or other strange mutations. I found this curious, so here is more information than you ever wanted to know about strange cat tails. An excerpt:

In 1783, Willian Marsden, Fellow of the Royal Society and late Secretary to the President and Council of Fort Marlborough wrote in "The History of Sumatra" of the Malay Cat: "All their tails imperfect and knobbed at the end." In 'The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication", Darwin wrote "throughout an immense area, namely, the Malayan Archipelago, Siam, Pequan, and Burmah, all the cats have truncated tails about half the proper length, often with a sort of knob at the end. […] The Madagascar cat is said to have a twisted tail." Another writer and traveller, Mivart, had corroborated the statement regarding the Malay cat, of which he said the tail "is only half the ordinary length, and often contorted into a sort of knot, so that it cannot be straightened […] Its contortion is due to deformity of the bones of the tail". Joseph Train had also mentioned th Malayan cats, comparing them with the Manx: "The Manks rumpy resembles some what in appearance the cats said by Sir Stamford Raffles to be peculiar to the Malayan Archipelago." Sir Stamford Raffles' name is closely associated with Singapore.

Also, most of them are quite lean. Doug wouldn't fit in.

Langkawi: Lots O Muslims, and Other Folks

It is very interesting to be in a place that is so heavily Muslim. Today, we went "Island Hopping"--a very popular activity here in Langkawi, which is surrounded by 99 islands--and the other four people in our boat were comprised of two couples. The women were in full head-to-to clothing and head scarves, even on the scorching beaches. We felt a little sheepish in our Western wares.

At one of the stops (there were more monkeys there!) we walked to a freshwater lake and the diversity of the populace was truly astounding. There was a Japanese family--the men in the all-too-common wiener-bikiner--doing cannon balls into the water. There were young Australian Muslim women in head-to-toe (and neck and head) swimming costumes frolicking and squeeling as only young women can. And there was every other breed of Aussie, Indian and Malay.

We, as the Americans, we the outliers.

December 25, 2008

Prawns the Size of Kittens; and Other Observations

Yesterday, we arrived in Langkawi via ferry. We immediately took a cab to Pedang Cenang, the section of beach popular with backpackers and other budget hunters. We hit the streets looking for a place to stay, but a bunch of the guest houses were booked solid. We eventually got lucky at a motel made up of small bungalows. We're across the street from the beach and we've got our own little porch.

You can imagine our surprise then when we headed down to the beach and it was sparse: a couple of euro men in wiener-bikiners, some gorgeous Italian women tanning to a crisp and some elderly Australian couples napping in the shade of some palm trees. With the whole town booked up, where was everyone?

Well, I got my answer when I went down at sunset and the place was hopping. Most Malaysians are Muslim (which became even more pronounced once we left the diversity of Penang). They're also smart enough to stay inside during the hottest part of the day. It wasn't till the temperatures cooled that families flooded the beach. Boys scampered around causing mischief, banana boats dotted the horizon and women in head-to-toe cover went swimming fully clothed.

For dinner, we walked down the town's main strip until we happened upon a large seafood restaurant bustling with families and couples of every stripe. The place was packed out, so we knew it would be good. We ended up splurging on a spectacular meal of tiger prawns (the size of kittens) with fried garlic and chili sauce, whole fish steamed with ginger and asparagus with garlic. We washed it all down with ice cold draft beer.

December 24, 2008

Things We Ate

Over the course of lunch and dinner at various hawker stalls around Georgetown, Penang:

Vegetable Dumplings (one with green stuff inside; one with radish (?) and carrot)
Curry Mee (noodles in red broth with solidified pigs blood, tofu, bean sprouts and the ubiquitous Malay chili sauce, sambal)
Pork Dumplings and Shrimp Dumplings with brown prawn sauce and sweet chili sauce
Stir-fried Rice Noodles (tossed with cockles, slivers of cured pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, scallion and a hint of chili)
Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce (so simple, but maybe the best item of the day)
Egg Noodles in Gravy with shredded chicken and vegetables
Shaved Ice topped with ice cream, condensed milk, pink syrup, slivers of jelly, corn and black beans (amazingly delicious; except the black beans)

We closed out the evening at a tea shop in China Town near our hotel, watching the rain pour down. Quite the day.

December 22, 2008


Yesterday, we took an all-day bus across the border and entered Malaysia. We're staying on the Island of Palau Penang, in Georgetown's China Town to be more specific. Penang features a blend of Chinese, Malay and Indian culture and is one of the world's most famous food meccas, a "gastonomical eden." Last night we ate in Little India, a maze of narrow streets with men making nan on the sidewalks. We ordered grilled chicken marinated in yogurt, raita, plenty of bread and the best samosas I've ever had (crunchy crust, whole peas and strings of fresh herbs in the center with a surprising heat).

On our walk home, we stopped at a tiny bar to enjoy a couple Tiger beers and I waged a losing battle with a wooden puzzle game presented to me by the proprietor (along with a rousing game of Connect Four; I lost every time).

I'm surprised by how much I love this city. The low-flung density reminds me of Europe, or the best parts of New York or San Francisco. The melting pot of cultures is astounding. It's a place that feels all at once foreign and familair; plus everyone speaks English.

Today: More food. And tomorrow, we're taking a boat to Langkawi, a beach island.

December 21, 2008

The Beach, Sans Leo

OK, I ripped that photo off the internet, but it shows exactly what the beach we visited today looked like—dazzling limestone cliffs, dense foliage and clear blue waters. We had to take a boat (a long tail) to get there, and I spent more than half the day just relaxing in the water and giggling like a school girl. There were even little boat snack bars—perfect for glorious fruit shakes and grilled corn with lime and sea salt. Think The Beach without the drug runners and sharks (I hope).

We've been doing a lot more exciting eating—pad thai from a hole in the wall near Sulli's place, curry and pomelo (a less bitter variety of citrus similar to grapefruit) with chili and salt from the night market—and tomorrow we're heading to Panang, Malaysia, a place world famous for its melting pot of cuisines.

No Indonesia ($$$), instead we'll be spending a week or so in Malaysia, splitting time between Panang and the island of Langkawi. Then it's back up to Thailand for New Years in the islands.

My computer is staying in Krabi, but I'll be making an effort at semi-regular updates. Laksa: Get ready to be eaten by me.

December 20, 2008


Sulli got attacked by a monkey. It jumped on her back and tried to steal her camera. It was nutso.

December 19, 2008

Rick Warren. Really?!?!

I, like many other Obama supporters, am livid about the whole Rick Warren dustup. I've read some pretty articulate arguments about why I shouldn't be so angry (like Andrew Sullivan's over at the Daily Dish), but I'm not buying it.

Not only does this guy guy hold hostile views towards gays and lesbians, compare abortion to The Holocaust, support abstience-only projects in Africa, ect., but he doesn't believe in evolution. Aren't we tired yet of giving these mutants a platform for their destructive ideology? Here's a great take on why this decision sucks. (via Glenn Greenwald at Salon).

Side Note: Doesn't Obama ever hold a grudge?! This dude ambushed him at that Saddleback forum in August. Cone of Silence my ass.

The Thing I'll Miss Most on this Trip (Besides Doug)

Summer Heights High on HBO. I can't wait to hit up that On Demand when I return. Puck you, miss!

There are also premieres of BSG and LOST to look forward to in the weeks immediately following my return.

But for now, all I have to get excited about is a Monday trip to Indonesia, via Malaysia. Not too shabby.

December 18, 2008

Thai Food: Yeah, It's Really Good

So, I've now done a little bit of eating. And I look forward to much, much more.

Last night, Sulli and I went to a little open-air restaurant with wooden tables and benches. I got my first authentic taste of my stateside favorite, the downright miraculous som tom—raw shredded papaya tossed with chili, fish sauce, lime and peanuts. Over here, it also features more of those little dried shrimp; these ones were a little less funky but still salty and mildly crunchy. We also ordered sticky rice and some grilled chicken that came on the bone, with sweet chili sauce for dipping. The chicken was crazy moist, with a mix of tender light and dark meat.

This morning, I wandered around by my lonesome while Sulli finished her last day of school. I didn't go too far—I was a bit nervous about getting lost. But I did manage to wander around the morning market and catch an eyeful of miraculous fruits, three-foot-long green beans and loads and loads of fresh fish (not the best smelling place in the world).

Then I stopped for some street food on the way home—chicken over rice with a black pepper sauce. It was simple, but beautiful—especially with a drizzle of tangy chili sauce over the top. Total cost: Less than $1 USD.

Thanks Jack: The Wonders of Caruso

Joke? Yes or no?!

Out of Touch

I left my cell phone in Philadelphia. Even with the Internet—and the blogging—I still feel a bit like I’m living off the grid. It’s liberating, but also makes things a bit more complex.

My friend and I actually had to make plans to meet when I got into Krabi. No “call you when I get there” business. We conversed via email in the morning, and she said she wouldn’t be able to leave school early to meet me at the airport. Instead I was supposed to take a bus into town and dawdle at a cafĂ© until she arrived.

But as I was making my way through the airport’s sliding doors, she appeared. We embraced. It was beautiful. She had been able to cut out early after all, and that moment of spontaneous connection would not have been possible without the omnipresent cell phone.

There is one problem: I never know what time it is.

Ruminations from the Road

Some Notes From My Journal Recorded During My Various Flights:

- Will I ever be again be able to think of Alaska without thinking of Sarah Palin?
- What does it say about me that I was devastated Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Two wasn’t an option on this flight.
- Is CSI Miami a joke? No, really.
- I walked off the plane in a rainy, fog-drenched Tokyo and was overwhelmed by the power of our modern age. The 14-hour flight might have gone a bit faster if I had managed to sleep more than 10 minutes, but it still feels like a miracle to traverse the entire United States and the breadth of the Pacific Ocean in less than a day.
- The Tokyo-Narita Airport was pristine and sprawling. It took me almost 20 minutes to walk to my gate. There were lots of vending machines and the bathrooms were beautiful.
- I have an entire row on my flight to Bangkok. Another miracle.
- Back in the Bangkok Airport.
- Just had my first pad thai of the trip; it was delish—filled with lots of tofu and little dried shrimp that tasted like low tide in Stone Harbor, NJ (in a good way).
- There is a very strange family in this cafeteria area. The father has to be an MMA fighter and his kids are roughhousing. I’m pretty sure he could crush me.
- Looking forward to some company.

December 17, 2008

(Air) Port Authority: Suvarnabhumi Airport

It was strange to be in Suvarnabhumi Airport last night. The place is huge and beautiful and very modern. Seeing the hordes of people not only coming and going through the airport due to travel, but the incredible amount of Thai people that rely on the country's bustling tourism trade for work, made me realize what a paralyzing event the airport shut-down must have been for the country.

Plus, I get cranky when my flight is delayed 20 minutes, I can not imagine being trapped in an airport for days.

And with all those sex tourists trapped in one confined space, you can bet there was some foot tapping going on (tfj Mike Block).

Dispatch From Bangkok: David Caruso, Really?!

After a very long trip (including a 14-hour flight to Tokyo in which I didn't sleep a wink), I've arrived safe in Bangkok.

Lee want bed now, but I did have one thought to share with the blogosphere. Due to some surprisingly limited in-flight entertainment, I was forced to watch my first ever episodes of CSI on the "CSI Channel" (even after years of watching Survivor, they were never able to reel me in). There was one each of original, Miami and New York.

I only have one question: Is CSI Miami a joke? No, really.

Tomorrow I get on yet another plane, this one to Krabi in Southern Thailand.

December 15, 2008

Beaches and Curry: Lee Goes to Thailand (Doug Stays Behind)

Tomorrow I am flying to Thailand. I'll be there for 27 days, hopefully blogging up a storm.

I'll also be eating. A lot. And talking about it. A lot. Food and beaches are pretty much tied when it comes to my top motivators for traveling there. (Sulli, you too.)

I'm a pretty big mutant when it comes to my food obsession—apparently some people find my fervor when discussing artisan cheeses slightly creepy—and Thai cooking involves a few of my most favorite things: ginger, garlic, chillies, coconut milk, lime and fresh herbs.

I'll be spending most of my time in the South, on the Western coast, so I think it's a fair assumption that I'll be munching down on scores of seafood and probably get to sample some truly strange stuff. (At least to my conservative Western palette; when it comes to first-hand experience with authentic global cuisine, I might as well be Sarah Palin—with less moose.) I hope to eat at least a few Bourdain-worthy cuts of meat, and live to tell the tale.

This time tomorrow, I'll be over the Pacific.

The Obama Campaign: Why We Won

(Barack Obama speaks in the rain in Chester. McCain cancelled his rally the same day due to inclement weather. That says is all.)

FYI: I'm unemployed for the good of the country. You're welcome.

In September, I left my job to work full time for the Obama-Biden Campaign. I came to Philly, lived with my brother and worked seven days a week. For most of my tenure, I was working in the Pennsylvania Headquarters, helping out the state policy director with various tasks—copy-editing policy documents, drafting talking points for surrogates and monitoring Internet rumors, smear fliers and robocalls through an email address called Watchdog.

Obviously Barack Obama won this election for lots of reasons—desire for change, force of his intellect and personality, a polarizing campaign by the opposition—but I think a lot of votes were won on the ground, through a philosophy that empowered voters and prized the simple act of listening.

For the last few weeks of the campaign, I was stationed in the downtown Philadelphia field office. Most of my time was still spent helping out with the Policy Department, but I was also there to answer policy questions (after weeks of reading draft after draft of every area of Obama's policy, I had some resources). In general, canvassers and phone bankers kept things simple, but occasionally voters would have more detailed questions. The volunteer would take down their number, and we would call them back. Promptly. I often had long, emotional conversations with individual voters, hearing about a sick child or concerns about "spreading the wealth"—damn you Joe the Plumber!

Health Care was the most common issue, and the one the inspired the most heartbreaking stories. A lot of people just wanted to be heard; they wanted to be told that the way they had been treated had been unjust (it was). So I would listen. I think that is a special way to run a campaign.

The email address was another tool of voter empowerment. The outlandish robocalls and mailers being disseminated by the PA Republican Party and various Right Wing activist groups blanketed the state. Instead of swallowing onslaught of misinformation and hateful language, supporters could send them to us. One man in Pittsburgh became our robocall guru—recording mp3's off his answering machine and being the first to notify the campaign of several controversial calls. He would also include the occasional zinger.

Made possible through technology (and the sheer manpower of the campaign), these tactics created a community, a village of supporters. And all of us helped to keep Pennsylvania blue.

No Wonder I'm Allergic to Kiwis: Eagle vs. Shark Made Me Angry

I guess unemployment leads to a lot of movie watching. I watched two more movies over the weekend (and saw another in the theater—Synecdoche, New York). One I had seen before (Two Days in Paris) and might have been even more excellent the second time around. And one I stumbled upon randomly on one of the myriad premium channels I don't get at my house (Eagle vs. Shark) and it made me angry.

In some ways, EvS is a classic quirky indie meet-cute comedy. But in other ways, it's about how lonely people will put up with anything, anything, from the person they've decided to love. Lily, our doe-eyed protagonist, is quietly pretty, endlessly kind and seems to get along with almost anyone. The object of her affection, Jarrod, is self-serious, depressed and endlessly mean and dismissive. But, who cares, they both like video games and crafting! This movie was the equivalent of a beer commercial fantasy for dudes who read Kotaku and like Moldy Peaches: No matter how insensitive and oblivious you are, some wonderful girl will devote herself to loving you.

After the denouement of Jarrod's nerd revenge subplot—spoiler alert: he beats up on a paraplegic with a set of nun chucks—he runs from Lily, and she chases. Are we supposed to be rooting for these two to end up together? So she can live life with a volatile, solipsistic, joyless man? For all you mutants out there who found these two to be the perfect pair, I hope you liked the ending.

(This movie does get bonus points for the beautiful New Zealand scenery and the oddly touching apple animation.)

December 13, 2008

What Do You Think Doug is Doing Right Now?

While I'm away from home, this is my favorite game.

a) Sleeping on the arm of the couch.
b) Sleeping on the middle of the couch.
c) Sleeping on the bed.
d) Eating.
e) Creepily kneading his favorite blanket.
f) Licking, loudly.
g) Running around for no reason whatsoever.
h) Flopping on the floor like a seal.
i) None of the above.

Check the Hair: Blagojevich is Unbelievable

Three days until I take this whole unemployed vagabond thing to a whole new level. Thailand here I come.

But for now, what I'm really fascinated by is the stupidest man in Illinois—and how he somehow managed to be elected governor.

I find that I'm constantly talking about believability. During a private viewing of The Jane Austen Book Club (bad, bad, bad movie), the factor that made me most incredulous—and there were many—was the lack of believability. Why would that super hot young guy be chasing an admittedly beautiful older woman who is intensely rude and ignorant of his feelings? Why are we supposed to be rooting for the curly-haired one to get back together with her philandering husband who broke things off with her in the coldest, most arrogant way possible? (Also, why do sad, curly haired women in movies so often show their happiness and rejuvenation by straightening their hair?) Why is the uptight prude lusting after her high school student and having clandestine meetings with him, in broad daylight, in the high school parking lot?!

OK, point made, deep breath.

But then something like this political scandal comes along and I realize that people often act in insane, unbelievable ways. If I sat through a movie about Blagojevich I would think it was a satire—a clumsy, heavy-handed satire. The delusional politician wheeling and dealing for good ole fashioned money and power; the guy is a caricature.