2014: A Year In Review

The final hours of the year reduced to single digits and it only just sank in, to write my yearly review: accomplishments, fuckups and the usual general moaning.

Last year, I talked about material pursuits - purchasing properties, diving equipment add-ons and splurging on a camera (in hindsight, very short-sighted and superficial!!). It is one of those rare moments where I can say, yep, all checked. Well, almost. I've finally locked in a terrace corner lot in Penang, and am now in the final processes of securing a loan etc. It is going to be a huge commitment but I've thought it through and decided to pursue this dream anyway - to finally own a property. La maison a SuYin should be completed in 2016, fingers and toes crossed.

Just after Chinese New Year, I bought a pre-loved 5D Mark II. I felt like a hypocrite: I've always been strongly against buying a DSLR because of its bulk, various never-ending accessories and technical complexities. But look at me now, lugging it through my travels and slaving to its batteries and cleaning. It's all worth it - loved the resulting photos. I've also learnt that the complexities aren't very hard to grasp. 

I don't blame you if you'd rolled your eyes and thought all of the above sounded like a brag disguised as a casual blog post, but no, don't get me wrong. The camera I purchased is second-hand, complete with scratches (cosmetic), but it works fairly well. The house I am getting is probably one of the cheapest landed properties in Penang and is way out of prime area - in Balik Pulau. Isolated from the hustle and bustle of the city.

This blog is dying, posts have become more scarce, as a result of work and traveling during my time off. I usually try to avoid getting glued to another computer screen when off work. Still, one post a month is hardly anything to complain about, right? ;) Besides, I realised that I've started to cherry-pick which and what posts to write. It's also heartening to know that my ranting posts have reduced to a large degree and now largely focused on traveling and eating.

Compared to the almost nomadic lifestyle the previous year, the brakes were definitely applied in the wanderlust department. The highlight will be a 2-weeklong adventure in Namibia, my first time ever on the African continent. Seeing wildlife - unrestrained and uncaged in front of my eyes - was a whole new unforgettable experience.

Also had the chance to bring Mum & Dad on holiday - to Hanoi. Mum has always wanted to go, whereas I haven't been even though I've been working in Vietnam for a while now. I really enjoyed Hanoi, have even started to plan to go back next year with Vinnie.

Hong Kong was added to the list just a couple of months ago. I'm usually not keen to visit large cities for holiday (very generic, shopping malls, traffic and chaos), but Hong Kong has got a certain character that sets it apart. Loved it, even spent a day in Disneyland and all. Work has brought me to Australia, have visited Melbourne (which reminds me to finish that post), a very pleasant city to explore.

Diving has been awfully lacking this year, only dived a few times when I spent 3 weeks in Havelock. Completed the Search & Rescue course with the inimitable Vinnie (who tried to drown me a few times during the course, very sexy). This will very likely change (the diving, not me drowning), with me finally making the big move to the wee island. Two complete ends of a spectrum - moving from the fast-paced and kiasu Singapore to the laid-back Havelock island of India, the country so well-known for its labyrinth of bureaucracy. 

Still, I much look forward to 2015 and eventually, the Year of the Goat. I'm not big on resolutions, but I'll just re-enforce certain key lifestyles I've always strived for. Well-being, humility, keeping myself grounded and probably the hardest of them all - learning to be content with myself.

Happy New Year, folks!

Hong Kong: Kung Fu Phooey

One of the few exceptions of a city that has always been in the bucket list - Hong Kong - along with Tokyo, Venice, to name a few. So excited that I am finally visiting!

It was the first time I've heard, and flew on HK Express, a Hong Kong-based budget airline that flies direct from Penang. I can't recall much of the experience, unfortunately. I slept through pretty much the whole flight. Though I do recall that announcements were made in Cantonese too. Was a little odd to me.

A nap and a shower after checking in, we scoured the streets for lunch. I had a list of to-go places with me, recommended by friends and websites alike: top on the list is roast goose! We stayed at Causeway Bay and were just strolling when we saw a line snaking from a restaurant. Curiosity got the better of me and I poked my nose right into it. Whaddya know, a roast goose shop! With the massive queue, waiting time was at least 30minutes. We pored over the menu and leisurely picked our orders while standing outside. There is a numbering system, so we didn't have to stay in line.

Service was quick, our orders came within minutes - juicy, fatty roast goose leg and crispy suckling pork in their glistening glory. I also ordered the recommended preserved egg and marinated soy beans. Preserved eggs were gooey in the center, tasted a little too rich for me. Soy beans are alright, but didn't fancy it too much.

But OMG, the roast goose!!! I. Have. Never. Whoa. The fatty layer between skin and meat is almost buttery, they melt in your mouth. I couldn't get enough of them. Rice was fragrant and most excellently absorbed the goose fat.

And OMG the suckling pork!!! The crunchy skin with a fatty layer is to die for. What luck to stumble into this gem of a place!

Kam’s Roast Goose
G/F Po Wah commercial Center, 
226 Hennessey Road

(I later found out that Kam's Roast Goose is actually a sister company of Yung Kee Restaurant - the posh, famed roast goose restaurant)


Another gem in Hong Kong that probably requires no introduction, the Australia Dairy Co. I saw it on every food blog, and every friend who has visited Hong Kong were enthusiastically cajoling me to try the "steamed milk". First I went, no, I am not visiting an Australian restaurant while in Hong Kong and secondly, steamed milk? Seriously.

They all waved me off impatiently and shot back that it's just the name. Goodness me.

And true enough, it is as popular as they say. Both locals and tourists flock.

The line is excessive, I agree, but it is fast moving. We were in line for perhaps 5-10 minutes?

We ordered a number of items: The quintessential Hongki breakfast of macaroni and ham soup, steamed milk, scrambled eggs with toast and French toast.

Macaroni in chicken broth and served with ham - not my thing. Was a little maggi mee-ish and the ham didn't win me either.

Steamed milk - wow. I finally realized what the hype is all about. I ordered it warm and it was so soft, a little gooey but in a good way. It's a little sweet and while I was stuffed with our orders, I happily finished this one!

Scrambled eggs with toast - Vinnie vaporized this before I barely even got to look at it. He said they were good.

French toast - no photos but oh my! Easily the best french toast I've ever tasted. They weren't sickly sweet, something that most restaurants tend to do. Instead, the sweetness of the honey is offset by the salted butter. Most deliciously done.

Quick service and crowded, as always!

Australian Dairy Co.
G/F 47-49 Parkes St 
(Jordan MTR)


Moving on to dinner at.... Tim Ho Wan. How can we possibly visit Hong Kong without having dim sum?!

There are a few Tim Ho Wan outlets in Singapore too. They are almost like a dim sum fast food restaurant, except they serve delicious food (Michelin-starred) at an affordable price.

Ordered the usual favourites - Baked BBQ pork buns. They were smaller than the ones in Singapore, but the fillings are densely packed! Singapore's Tim Ho Wan has pockets of air in their buns, those cheaters. It's like wearing one of those padded bum jeans to make your butt look perky when they aren't.

Right- Pork liver rice rolls. I used to hate the taste of liver, but I almost crave for it now!

Pan fried carrot cake and siu mai. Pretty good quality and I think quite consistent with the shops in Singapore.

Tim Ho Wan
9-11 Fuk Wing St
(Sham Sui Po MTR)


So the last time we planned a holiday in Phuket, there was a military junta and curfew in effect, but we proceeded with the trip anyway - and had tons of fun, minus the crazy tourist crowd. Then the plan to Hong Kong and suddenly there were reports of protests ongoing, train services halted..... someone up there has got a cruel sense of humor, but we didn't care!

Noodles with wantons!

Another location I got off the net. We both ordered the dry noodles version, though the recommended ones were soup noodles. I got the prawn egg noodles and V got the spicy BBQ pork instead. Bouncy noodles and generous dumpling fillings - hits the spot. Soup tasted very MSG, though.

Mak Unkee Noodle 
77 Wellington St Central
(Central MTR)


I badly wanted to go to a dimsum place that Ming Chee recommended, called Lin Heung Kui, for dinner that night. However, I overlooked the fact that dim sum may not be served all day and night and simply assumed they will be available. My face fell when they gave us a menu for zi char, so we ordered a few things but they turned out to be more misses than hits (a pork thingie that came braised and starchy, a mixed vegetable turned out to be vegetable soup...meh).... :( Still, 2/3 on Day 1 can't be all that bad!

No pictures in Lin Heung Kui for the zhi char dinner, but we came back another day for the main purpose: dim sum! 

Spot the trolley dolley.

Busy, busy place! We had to find our own seats. Like hawk, we swooped down towards the table whenever someone lifted his ass off the seat. Got seats in minutes, proud of ourselves. Others were on hunting mode too. Whenever the dim sum trolley gets pushed out, it gets swarmed by hungry zombies. If you found your love in Hong Kong and want to reveal her true colours, bring her here, I reckon.

I was quite disappointed with the small range of choices, to be honest. Did not see any "lao sa pao". So we ordered the typical dim sum types. Not great shots but I didn't want to attract too much attention by taking multiple shots!

As you can see, the siu mai has very generous amount of prawns and pork piled on it. It was really good! Cha siew pau is also very yummy!

Lin Heung Kui Dim Sum
160-164 Wellington St
(Central MTR)


Our last dinner in Hong Kong, after we'd finished with Disneyland (no, we didn't stay for the fireworks because Mr-Not-Keen-With-Fireworks don't fancy them). We wanted to have a nice dinner, to treat ourselves at a fancy restaurant. Because I've heard so much about Yung Kee - the famed roast goose restaurant - the decision is obvious.

Vinnie's hankering for sweet and sour pork (again) means we ordered that (again) and also stir fried beef slices with capsicum (again) hehe. I wanted my green veg fix, and ordered this special greens that is apparently unique to Hong Kong (?).

You look mighty fine!

Roast goose was as delicious as its sister company, Kam's Roast Goose. However, Yung Kee has the winning edge with their fermented soy beans that came with the bird. I'm no expert with soy beans but somehow, Yung Kee's version goes down really well with the goose. I've said it before, but I'm saying it again: Roast goose fat absorbed into rice is a delicacy of its own!

The pork and beef dishes were absolutely delicious too! Sweet sour pork was crispy and caramelized on the outside, and tender on the inside. Beef was cooked right, the green chillis add a bite to the dish.

Prices were hefty, extra USD8 just for the roast goose, and everything came to about $120. Still, a really good meal!

Yung Kee Restaurant
30-40 Wellington St

(Central MTR)


Satisfied with the meal, we proceeded to stuff ourselves some more, cos there's always room for steamed milk.

This was another recommendation, from Sue Wern. We even took the MTR towards the Tsim Sha Shui area from HK island for Yee Shun, then back again to HK island later to our hotel. Proud of you, V, foodie you have become.

Verdict: Slight differences, but I much prefer the steamed milk at the Australian Dairy Co!

Yee Shun 
513 Nathan Road

(Yau Ma Tei MTR)


Finished with the food hunt, now I shall bore you with sickly pictures of us in Disneyland.

I've been told over again how Disneyland HK is the worst among them, small, frequented by insensitive and socially-inept Chinese tourists - I can sort of see why. At times, our experience were spoilt by the two men talking in loud voices, the children peeing into plastic bags, that sort of thing. But Disneyland is still a magical place to me, it brings out the inner child. I was tempted to break into a skip as we approached the main entrance!

The weather was perfect for walking around. Overcast and pleasant temperatures. We did not break into sweat and we did not even need our sunglasses. Couldn't ask for a more beautiful day.

Ended with a romantic stroll along the Arena of Stars boulevard and a view of Hong Kong island.

Caught a whiff of the most intoxicating smell..... Grilled cuttlefish!! So addictive!

Hanoi: Picturesque Ninh Binh

From Halong Bay, it was another full day of driving - approximately 5 hours to Ninh Binh, which is south of Hanoi. Ninh Binh, nicknamed "The Halong Bay of Land", is a picturesque valley filled with lush greenery and limestone hills. For this leg of the trip, we have a tour guide to accompany us - Duc. 

By the time we arrived in Ninh Binh, it was already close to 4pm - sun sets at around 6:20pm. Only enough time for a quick walkabout and take some pretty shots of sunset if I'm lucky. Parents decided to take it easy and enjoy the pool and more qigong. 

From the hotel, I could see some pretty momuments erected by the limestone hills. I had to walk around swathes of paddy fields to get to them... only to discover that those pretty monuments are really tombs, gulp. Then on the way back, I spied a man who was walking on a raised dirt bank across the flooded rice plains. Hey, I thought, this will save me from going around the paddy fields to return to the hotel! So I followed him.

As I gingerly side-stepped cow dung and avoided muddy banks, I could see the man ahead of me has already reached the other side of the field and was sitting on a platform to chat with his buddy. They both turned around to watch me and my balancing act. Spurned by my new spectators, I balanced on slippery rocks and neatly jumped across to dry land.  

What? You think I was going to fall flat on my face? Not with my catlike reflexes, no. Sorry to disappoint.

One of my admiring spectators. He even tried to help me by instructing where to place my footing, but in his language.... At least, that's what I thought. He could be making fun of my touristy looks for all I know.

So the entire village is almost filled with water everywhere I go. Around houses, fields, tanks etc and etc.  I saw a man fishing from these ponds too!

Anyhoo, we were told that we could have our dinner at the hotel. But as far as I am concerned, if there is a way I can get out of eating in an eatery adjusted for foreign tastebuds, I will take that way out. So I asked, begged, pleaded Duc to bring us out for dinner and spare us the bland hotel meals. We met Duc and our driver after shower and we drove into town for an authentic Vietnamese dinner experience.

Duc tells us that one of Ninh Binh's specialties is the goat meat. 

Two types of goat meat dishes were ordered: Goat meat with lemongrass (second from top right) and a goat meat wrap (bottom first and third dish) - a rice paper, laden with slices of goat meat, cucumber, some herbs, slice of starfruit, generous dollop of misc sauces, roll up and consume. We also ordered stir fried morning glory vegetables, tofu cooked with tomatoes, young papaya salad and steamed rice. It was heavenly. That tomato soup thingy was for the last few mouthfuls of rice. You scoop some soup and tomatoes into your bowl, mix them all up and finish the meal.

Washed down with a bottle of Hanoi beer, of course.

Duc and a goat meat spring roll he made.

This will be bookmarked for the next time I visit!

We left early the next morning to go on a boat ride around the grottoes of Trang An Eco tourism complex. What a beautiful place!

The boat ride is really pleasant. Very pretty, with tall limestone hills surrounding us and lily flowers dotting the lake. We even spotted koi fishes, frogs and little ducks!

A lady rowed us around the lake, and under caves. Some of the caves have really low roofs - we had to bend forwards or lie down on the boat to pass through! Definitely exciting to see Mum and Dad's acrobatic skills... or the lack of.

Docked at a temple built on the lake, took 10 minutes' hike to reach the temple.

Just as we reached the temple, it started to drizzle, just a touch, along with the sound of a gong reverberating. I just stood there, entranced, taking it all in.

Magnificent, no? :)

It was more than a 2-hour boat ride - came to about 3 hours actually! By then I was starved (only a small breakfast at the hotel - a really nice and spacious Legend Hotel, btw), also it was almost noon and we asked Duc to bring us for lunch first before moving on to the next destination.

1. More goat meat- this one tastes much better than the night before. Meat is really tender, aromatic with lemongrass. Can't get enough of it!   2. Crispy spring roll.   3. Deep fried crispy corn (Duc initially ordered French fries for us but I adamantly told him no!!! Goodness me, what a close faux pas!).   4. A type of crispy rice flakes, it's nice as a snack, maybe. But not so much with rice. Taken dipped in soup.

There were also the tofu cooked with tomatoes and stir fried morning glory veg again. I suppose Duc thinks we enjoyed the previous night's meal and carbon copied onto today's orders, thinking we'd appreciate it, lol. Very nice, but not spot on...

Moving on, we entered the Ancient Capital Hoa Lu, which used to be the capital of Vietnam. 

Duc brought us to King Dinh's memorial temple. I took off my shoes, stepped into the temple and tiptoed past a small group of women chanting prayers. And just there, right in front of me, a shaft of light from an opening in the roof shined onto the incense sticks.

This is easily my favourite shot of the trip. I only had about 30 seconds to twiddle with the camera, took a few shots and after that, that light was gone.

It was getting more humid by then and we still had to hike some 15-20 minutes up a hill to visit King Dinh's tomb! Mum did not come with us because of her knees, but it wasn't really that spectacular a view from the top. I was just glad to have a chance to do a bit of hiking. Me and dad got harassed by a couple of old, haggard women on our hike, almost forcing us to take some drinks and pay for them. Oh my, we couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Having had enough of temples for the day, we got back into the van and drove for two hours back to Hanoi for some last minute shopping and to wind down. We must have bought at least 10 large packets of coffee - strong, aromatic Vietnamese coffee.

Dinner at an eatery Duc recommended - very popular! Packed with locals and tourists alike.

Mango salad, stir fried morning glory vegetables (again), chilli clams and ginger with spring onion frog meat. The chilli clams were recommended by our waiter - it was spot on! And I'm not even a big fan of clams but these were really delicious.

Dad had a hankering for frog meat so...... They were quite tasty, actually. Everything we ordered turned out yummy, no wonder it's a hit among the locals.

Our flights were in the afternoon, so Duc suggested we take a one-hour trishaw ride around the Old Quarter before we check out and I thought that's a pretty cool idea. Each of us got a trishaw each, no squabbling and elbowing for space!

And that, wraps up our Hanoi adventure!

The Georgian Adventure - Hike to Chalaadi Glacier

Our third, and last hike in Svaneti. There are so many more places to hike and explore around Georgia, it was a hard decision to premature...