Quirks

Everybody has quirks.  Every thing has quirks.  And nearly three months (!) into my time in Brunei, we’ve discovered some of the little quirks of this place.  These are those really little things that don’t really make a big difference in our daily life, but every so often make us go “huh! that’s odd”.

  1. Chips (as in hot chips, french fries) usually don’t come with salt.  And there often isn’t salt on the tables.  So you have to specially request it.
  2. Cash machines are always in air conditioned rooms, and there are separate machines for cash withdrawal and cash deposit.  And people actually use the deposit machines (at least sometimes).
    (Side note, our local bank also has a little online terminal, where you can do your online banking if you don’t have internet access at home/work/wherever.  Kinda neat, huh?)
  3. People rent bouncy castles.  This is an odd one, I know.  But in all my years in New Zealand, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bouncy castle in someone’s backyard.  In three months in Brunei, I’ve seen at least four.
  4. They still use carbon copies and hand written receipts.  Often.  Sure, at home you might occasionally come across a written receipt, or a carbon copy. But generally, things are pretty modern.  Here, many transactions are still done manually.  There are even still ads about the benefits of using cards over cash (the main non-benefit being, they’re often not accepted!)
  5. There is so much beach, but nobody swims.  The water doesn’t always look the best, but it’s usually fine.  And it’s lovely and warm (but still cooler than outside).  Yet no one else is ever swimming!
  6. The weekend for many people is split.  They work Monday-Thursday and Saturday, with Fridays and Sundays off.
  7. Some people drive really fast and a little bit nutty.  Other people drive really slow (some trucks are limited to 35 km/h, others to 50 or 60 km/h).  But no one seems too bothered by the other.
  8. People are seriously addicted to smart phones.  It’s really common to see a large family out for dinner, with everyone tapping away on phones and no one talking.
  9. There are no rules about lighting fires (as far as we can tell), and you often see people burning rubbish in their gardens, even in town.
  10. All number plates begin with K or B, depending where the car was registered.
  11. Carrot juice is often served with milk.
Another quirky thing: a proboscis monkey!

Another quirky thing: a proboscis monkey!  Photo by The Engineer.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Weekly Challenge 10: Canned Drinks

I had a few ideas swirling around for this week’s challenge.  Most of them revolved around weird things you can buy at the local market (squid tubes that may or may not be preserved in some way, preserved cabbage stuff, dried fish, live crabs).  Many of them will probably feature in future challenges.  But when I was doing the supermarket shopping, I stumbled into the drinks aisle.  Usually we go down there just to check if club soda is back in stock (it was), but this time around I was on my own (perfect challenge purchasing time), and a rather large display caught my eye.  The canned drinks display.  This made me think of my sister and her boyfriend’s blog, Are We There Yeti?, where they chronicle their travels, and where they can often be found trying out different sodas of the world.  And the idea for this challenge was formed:

Challenge Canned Drinks

(we have watched Japanese Iron Chef a few times lately.  If  you haven’t seen it before, and this parenthetical statement seems like a non-sequitur, you should probably watch it)

Challenge Canned Drinks

Challenge Canned Drinks

Thanks to my excellent shopping and the cheap price of cans here, The Engineer had 6 different canned drinks to try (and who are we kidding, I was totally in on this one too!).  I gave him options as to how the challenge was structured, but he boldly chose to try them all in one evening.  And as a nod to our friends over at Are We There Yeti, we’re including real ratings this week (out of 10 and everything…)

(Note: as challengee, The Engineer provided all ratings.)

This is how the challenge went down:

  1. Water Chestnut Drink

    The main advertising point of this one was that it contained chunky bits, which is not entirely positive in our eyes.  But the drink was not terrible.  It basically tasted like sweet water with some chunky bits.  Very sweet water, if we’re honest about it.  It tasted a bit like Grass Jelly Drink (which we had tried at a Hash Running event – not by choice), which was not surprising, but also not a great selling point.

    Way to sell it to us...

    Way to sell it to us…

    Rating: 4/10

  2. Tamarind Drink

    When we first tried this one, it got an 8/10.  It was really good!  It didn’t really taste like anything else we’ve tried, but was just a plain juice (not a soft drink). It was sour and tangy, and sweet (but not too sweet).  But as it got a little warmer and we drank a bit more, it got a bit less good.  I think that if it had been fizzy, the 8 would have remained.  But as it was…

    Rating: 7/10

  3. Soya Bean Milk

    To be honest, I’m not sure why I included this one in the challenge.  We’ve both tried plenty of soy milk before, and while we don’t hate it, it’s not exactly something we drink straight for pleasure.  Nevertheless, it was included in the challenge, so it had to be tried.  And turns out this wasn’t just any regular soy milk.   It was soy milk with about 10 teaspoons of sugar added.  We shouldn’t have been too surprised; drinks here are always pretty sugary and we tend to order many things with little sugar or no sugar.  But surprised we were, and not in a good way.

    Rating: 2/10

  4. Chrysanthemum Tea

    This was a bit of an outsider coming in.  We had no real idea of what it might taste like before we tried it and no preconceived notions.  But the lack of expectations didn’t really help this one much.  Like the first one, it was basically tasteless, but extremely sweet.  For some people, that might be a good thing.  For us, sugar water is not a winner…

    Rating: 4/10

    Obligatory tasting shot

    Obligatory tasting shot

  5. Apple Tea

    We intentionally saved what we thought would be the best for last.  So the second to last was the Apple Tea.  And we were right to save this one.  It tasted a bit like apple juice, but less sweet, and with a slight taste of black tea.  That sounds a little bit weird when I write it, but we both really liked it.  I liked it so much that I tried another can for lunch the next day, but either my tastebuds were a bit messed up when I tried it the first time, or this was a different batch.  It was still drinkable, but quite ‘fake’ tasting.  Nonetheless, it’s inspired me to make home made iced tea!

    Rating: 8/10

  6. Kickapoo Joy Juice

    The description of this one was ‘Citrus Flavoured Soft Drink’, which is pretty much The Engineer’s favourite thing.  To be honest, it was only really included in the challenge for the name (seriously guys, Kickapoo Joy Juice?!).  And all assumptions about this one were correct.  He loved it.  It tasted a little bit like Mountain Dew, but less insanely yellow, and less insanely sweet.  Reading the label, we even found out that it was made in Brunei.  And nothing is really made in Brunei, so that’s impressive!  All in all, this one was a big ol’ win.

    Rating: 9.5/10

 

And there we have it.  Six of the more weird and wonderful drinks available in cans here in Brunei.  I have to admit that some of the cans were wasted (Soy, Chrysanthemum, and Water Chestnut were just not worth continuing).  But some of them were enjoyed, and have even been purchased again since.  (And the sugar overload only drove us mildly mental…)

Cheers!

Cheers!

A weekend in jungle in photos and (bad) haiku

River

Quiet and serene
Jungle far as you can see
Ulu Temburong

Tent within a tent

Tent within a tent
right beside the riverbank
Could do without rain

Longboat

Like a “local” at
Sumbiling Eco Village
More like a voyeur

Welcome to Sumbiling Eco Village

Wake up to fried rice
Bamboo chicken and veges
So much good to eat

Canopy Walkway

Towering above
Gripping onto scaffolding
Rainforest for miles

Reading in the hammock

Lazily reading
Swinging between leafy trees
Unplugged and happy




Expat Bookshelf: Sunshine Soup – Nourishing the Global Soul

This post is the start of a new series.  I love books, I am an expat.  So, I am going to start writing about the books I read that are related to being an expat.  (Note: I write a tiny bit about the other books I read over at Goodreads).  This series is supported (in part) by Summertime Publishing, who have very kindly offered me review copies of some of their books (their books are by and for expats, and you can buy them at Expat Bookshop).  

Sunshine Soup – Nourishing the Global Soul 13097878 by Jo Parfitt
Summertime Publishing
Available from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

Sunshine Soup is the story of a group of expat women in Dubai who are trying to travel through the culture shock, loss of identity, and depression so often associated with an overseas move.  The story starts with Maya, a newcomer who misses her friends, her delicatessen and her kitchen.  When she gets the stamp in her passport saying “Wife – Not Allowed to Work”, she is shocked, and has to rediscover her identity without the business she built and loved back at home.  Early on she meets Barb, a ‘super expat wife’ who is so busy volunteering, meeting and helping that she neglects herself and has never really dealt with past grief.  A number of other women with different experiences and reasons for being in Dubai come into the scene, and we meet many of the ‘typical’ types of expats.

But while the main characters may be ‘typical’ in some ways, they are not caricatures, or one dimensional.  The characters are layered and interesting, and definitely draw you into the story.  This is also helped by the fact that the book starts at just the right point.  The story starts where the action starts, and the background is woven in throughout, making it a far more interesting read.  I was into the story from the start, and wanted to find out what happened.

Sunshine Soup really nails an often ignored expat life.  That it’s just ordinary life, but in another country.  It’s so easy to glamourise this life (after all, staying in a lovely sunny climate, with lots of new experiences and travels, and often a fairly lavish lifestyle is pretty easy to glamourise).  But the reality is that ordinary things still happen.  People grieve, people are tempted, people are sullen, work is hard sometimes, teenagers are teenagers.  And this book captures all of that reality throughout.

However, at the end, I lost the plot a little (no, I didn’t go crazy, I just wasn’t quite so engaged with the story).  I think the end was a little rushed, and a few storylines were a bit out of the blue for me (particularly Barb’s love interest).  I also thought that the connection with food was a little bit forced.  There were times where it fitted in seamlessly (and made me really hungry), but other times where I felt like the story was being pushed in slightly unnatural directions.

Overall, I think that this book would be particularly great for anyone about to head on their first expat adventure, as well as anyone who has already been through the experience.  There are plenty of characters and experiences to relate to.  And I love to engage with life experiences through fiction.  I far prefer this format to a memoir, where the constraints of reality can so easily be detrimental to the plot (that is not to say there aren’t great memoirs out there, and I even intend to review some here, but in general I’m a fiction girl).  Sunshine Soup is a great read, and will resonate particularly strongly with global souls.  But the writing and story is accessible enough that anyone could enjoy it, whether they see themselves as a global soul/trailing spouse/expat/traveller or not.

Rating: 3.5 stars.

Weekly Challenge 9: Dessert edition

When I arrived in Brunei, one of the first restaurants we went to was WYWY in Seria.  It was a hot day, we were tired, and the place didn’t look too daunting…  Well, it didn’t look too daunting until we got our menus.  They were the fattest menus I’d ever seen.  So fat that the waitress couldn’t carry more than four at a time, and so fat that they required a contents page.

We were just there for lunch at the time, and the food was underwhelming (The Engineer’s prawns were way overcooked, my squid stirfry was edible but boring).  But the desserts pages stuck in our minds, and this week when we had not completed our challenge by Sunday evening, had no food in the fridge, and were exhausted after a trip to the jungle, we decided that this was the time to revisit them.

The challenge was for each of us to order dessert for the other.  Pretty simple, but with so much potential for greatness.

Deliberation took quite some time (there are more than 50 dessert options).  I was tossing up between ABC, Cherry ABC, and ABC Fresh Coconut for The Engineer.  And trying to convince him that Peach of Peach was by far the best choice for me.

Just a couple of the dessert pages in the menu.  Including some slightly comical photo framing, which I didn't notice until after the photo was taken.  It's Pudding De Cocktail, by the way...

Just a couple of the dessert pages in the menu. Including some slightly comical photo framing, which I didn’t notice until after the photo was taken. It’s Pudding De Cocktail, by the way…

There was a bit of confusion about our dessert orders.  We had several different people offering menus, taking orders, clearing tables, ignoring our not-so-subtle stares, and dragging our time in the restaurant out for as long as possible.  But eventually, our desserts arrived.

For The Engineer, I chose ABC Fresh Coconut.  ABC is a dessert that we’ve seen on many different menus around the place, but have never actually tried.  It basically means “Mixed Ice”, and is a combination of ice and other bits and pieces.  (At this point, I feel like I should make a pun about ABCs/alphabets/something, but nothing’s coming to me…)

The coconut arrived, and didn’t look too scary.  There was coconut water on the side (which he promptly gave to me – he’s not a fan), and the coconut had been filled, but all you could see was whipped cream, and the big ol’ straw sticking out.

The Engineer's Dessert

ABC Fresh Coconut. Looks pretty harmless, doesn’t it?

But after trying it, The Engineer’s face got some weird expressions.  And this is why:

Pretty wacky

What’s inside the ABC Fresh Coconut?

It was basically milk based, with plenty of ice.  Thrown in were lots of other bits.  Some Chendol (the green wormy looking jelly), some Cincau (the Grass Jelly), some red jelly drops, some yellow jelly, and some sweet corn.  Individually, nothing was bad.  But the combo left a lot to be desired.

I'm not sure about this...

The Engineer trying his ABC

For me, The Engineer selected Mixed Chendol.  He’d been curious about Chendol for a while (and we didn’t realise it was included in the ABC).  The bright green worms of jelly are pretty weird looking after all.

Maybe the brightest dessert ever?

My Mixed Chendol. I like the colours!

And when it arrived, so did my relief.  It was basically jelly and ice cream (the ice cream is coated in whipped cream).  Sure, the jelly and ice cream sat on top of a big pile of shaved ice.  And sure, the gummy lolly decorations were an odd inclusion.  But hey, they were no vegetables in it!

Mmm jelly and icecream

Me trying my Mixed Chendol (a.k.a jelly and icecream)

I gave it a try, and it was basically what you’d expect from the description.  I wasn’t sure about the inclusion of ice at first, but it wasn’t half bad.  It kept everything cold, although things did get a bit watery after a while.  The lollies were super super chewy, and not the best.  But they were easily avoided.  And the cream coated icecream and jelly were both pretty good.  It was not my favourite dessert (I’m pretty solidly in the chocolate/caramel/cookies camp when it comes to dessert), but I definitely think I came out on top of this one.

Hmmm...

This ABC Fresh Coconut think is kinda weird…

This was the first challenge that we completed at a restaurant.  We didn’t really think anything of it going in, but what we realised when we tried our desserts is that it put some pressure on us to actually try them.  With many of the ones we do at home, we have our taste, and then call it a day.  But with this one, we felt as though we had to power through.  I think we both got about half way through before The Engineer’s got too chunky and corny, and mine got too watery and sweet.  Then we hightailed it out of there, and probably never plan to return (the food was, once again, average, and we’ve “done” the desserts now…)

 

Weekly Challenge 8: Weird Dried Fruit Candy Things

I feel a bit sorry for The Engineer.  He’s busy working through the week, and when it comes to Friday, the last thing on his mind is a challenge.  I try to remind him that this is his chance to make me do some weird things, and to get me back for preserved egg week.  But still, it seems to slip his mind.  And last week it was made worse by the fact that I had a terrible cold from Wednesday to Saturday (we had to miss the Borneo Jazz Festival because of it, and I’m still a little bitter about it).  On Friday he felt too bad to challenge me.  I actually wanted him to.  I thought that when I had a blocked nose was the PERFECT time to try something a little bit disgusting.  But instead I slept, and he entertained himself setting up a new music thingy on the laptop (I’m usually fairly tech-savvy, but when it comes to organising music and iTunes and updating and syncing, I’m the opposite, and very happy to leave it up to him).  Long story short, we got to Sunday, and still no challenge had been set.  We had popped over to Malaysia (as you do) to get me a new desk chair, and he decided to visit a Malaysian supermarket to see what caught his eye.

And what ended up catching his eye was the dried fruit candy aisle.  (I don’t really know what to call this, but in every Malaysian and Bruneian supermarket we’ve been to there’s a section that contains bags of brightly coloured dried fruits.  The way they’re set up always makes me think of candy, and they’re definitely sugared, but they do all appear to be dried fruits).  This was a section we hadn’t explored much, so he picked out a selection of the funkiest looking packets.  We ended up with a dried mango, something labelled Buah Limau (which Google Translate tells me is Citrus Fruit), and something labelled Buah Kana (on which Google Translate has nothing to offer).

Dried Candy Fruit Lolly Things

I don’t really know what to call these. The way and place they’re usually displayed always makes me think of candy, and they’re certainly sugary. But they’re all fruit…

He wasn’t overly happy with his selection.  I was quite delighted.  “Dried fruit” I thought, “This should be an easy one!”

Looking pretty cocky

I definitely thought this was an easy one.

But that smile was quickly wiped off my face when I tried the dried mango.  It was extremely dried, rough, and hard to chew.  And the taste certainly wasn’t like mango.  I don’t particularly like mango, but it would have been far preferable to the salty, sour, slightly fruity flavour of this snack.  The combination of the flavour, and the texture, meant that after what felt like a minute of chewing, I could no longer handle it, and I spat it out.

Yes, you read that right.  I ate a Century Egg, but I spat out a piece of dried mango.

The red one was next.  And it was an improvement.  Particularly in the texture.  It was just like a dried apricot/whatever in texture.  It looked a little bit like a strawberry, but I still don’t actually know what it was.  The flavour was (once again) sour, salty, and sweet.  I wouldn’t bother eating another piece of it, but this one stayed in my mouth.

And last but not least was the orange one.  Apparently citrus fruit, but I don’t believe it for a second.  I grabbed this one, took a bite, and then made several different confused expressions (as evidenced in the photos below).  The reason I was confused was the texture.  It was hard.  Like, really quite hard.  And it had a massive stone in the middle.  The texture wasn’t bad, but it was certainly surprising when I was expecting a piece of dried fruit, and possibly citrus fruit at that.  The redeeming feature of this orange dude was the flavour.  This one was actually kinda nice.  I think it’s because it was missing the salty note that was so unusual in the first two.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some salty and sweet – peanut butter chocolate, kettle corn, etc.  but salty + sweet + sour is quite strange for my palate (although quite common here).

Me tasting the fruit.  Missing: me spitting out the dried mango.

Me tasting the fruit. Missing: me spitting out the dried mango.

My comments after tasting?:

“Well, I definitely never expected the dried mango to be the first of these challenges that I spat out!”

And really, there isn’t much more to say than that.

A lunchtime, in pictures

image

On my way to meet The Engineer for lunch. Our favourite spot is by the river, about 5 minutes walk from home. These things are enough to make it a favourite, but the real reason is the great cheap food.

image

You’ve got to be careful when walking in KB. This hole in the ground leads to a storm drain. The stick is a welcome new addition – it actually warns you of its existence. And this isn’t really isolated either. There are huge storm drains and gutters all over the place filled with stinky water.

 

image

The Belait River is really rather attractive. We’re looking forward to The Engineer going on a speed boat course so that we can cruise up a bit further.

 

image

This is “our” lunch spot. A little food court with two drinks stalls, and about 4 or 5 food stalls. It’s usually pretty busy, but we’re usually the only white people there. We get some funny looks. But we can get Laksa for $2, so we’re not going to stop going.

image

A terrible shot of The Engineer and our lunch time view. About two minutes after this picture was taken, a ship with an oil rig on it travelled up the river. Very impressive.

Missing: A picture of our lunch!  Blogging fail…  But it was just too good.  We had green curry chicken and butter prawns (battered fried prawns with egg and coriander, from what we could tell) from a Thai place. I had fresh green apple juice, The Engineer had Iced Lemon Tea.  Total cost $12 (it was a bit of an expensive one today…)

 

image

We spotted a giant dead cicada on our way out. There are some crazy large bugs over here.

image

After lunch is apparently rush hour in KB. (Actually, it’s probably lunch for most – this was only about 12:40). It took ages to get across.

image

We stopped in at the market on the way home for some veges and a phone top up card. We bought lady fingers, limes, eggplants, and onions. Total cost: $4.50. Also failed to take a picture of the actual stalls.

 

And there it is.  A (not very exciting) look into a typical lunchtime for us in Kuala Belait.