Tag Archives: Kuala Lumpur

10 Ways to Experience Kuala Lumpur Like a Local

By Princess Draupadi

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It’s always interesting to hear what foreigners think of Malaysia. Every time I travel and people ask me where I’m from and I say it, I get all kinds of reactions. Good ones, so far.

“Oh my God, Malaysia?!”
“Beautiful country!”
“You’re soooooo lucky.”

The last statement was said to me by an European girl I was having tea with in Madurai.

“Why am I lucky?” I asked.

Her eyes widened. “The SUN!” she exclaimed. “All that sunshine. You get so much SUN! The beach.” She sighed prettily and let herself melt away onto the table in an exaggerated expression of pleasure.

I laughed. Cute girl. She was right, of course. But if only she knew how Malaysians reacted to the sun. How we’re tired of getting too much of it, how we’re constantly running away from it. How people here carried umbrellas and wore long driving gloves to avoid getting tanned. How obsessed we are with air-conditioning.

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As much as I love being everywhere else, I really love Malaysia. Tropical vegetation, blue seas, blue skies. Multiracial, multicultural, both rural and urban in almost equal measure. Like any other country we have our ups and downs (including some of the most corrupt politicians in the world), but I’d rather focus on the good stuff.

Kuala Lumpur

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As with every major city in the world, there’s always a recommended bunch of typical touristy stuff to do. Kuala Lumpur (KL) is no exception, as a Google search will show you.

If you really must look at two colossal steel-and-concrete towers that supposedly represent this city, by all means go ahead. However, I think KL has so much more to offer.

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While the towers are shiny and pretty and everything, I’m of the opinion that the lifeblood of Kuala Lumpur lies in the whole vibe, the collective energy that powers this city. The heart and soul of KL lies in the diversity of its people, food, street life, traffic jams, art and culture.

Having lived all 35 years of my life in this city and Singapore next door, here’s my recommended list of things to experience in Kuala Lumpur. Would you like to live the life of a KLite, do the things we do, at least for a while? Then read on.

But first, a little introduction to the local lingo.

***Special Note on Language: Sentences with the Lah Suffix.***

Most KLites speak English, at levels varying from basic to excellent. While many of us locals speak the language really well, we have a unique way of conversing among ourselves, irrespective of race and ethnic background, a phenomenon known to some as ‘Manglish’.

What’s that? Well, somewhat broken English, peppered with words from various languages and dialects spoken locally including Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien, Mandarin, Tamil, Punjabi and more. For example, macha (Tamil: brother-in-law), jom (Malay street slang: let’s go), tapau (Hokkien: take-away food). Whenever Malaysians get into this mode and start talking like this in a group, we’d understand each other perfectly. Observing foreigners, meanwhile, are generally baffled. 

Brian here says some interesting things about Malaysian culture, and a bit about the language.

To talk like us, add lah to the end of random sentences in conversations with Malaysians. A good way to start trying this out is when you’re ordering food at Malaysian restaurants. You’ll probably use it wrong, but hey, who cares. You’ll surprise the locals, have a good laugh with them and make some great friends – guaranteed.

Here are some recommended ways to use lah accurately:

  • This is my first time visiting Malaysia lah.
  • Can lah / Cannot lah. (When asked if something can or cannot be added to your food, ie pork).
  • It’s so hot lah.
  • I want to buy a drink lah.
  • Can you lower the price? Too expensive lah.
  • Can I have this in blue? I don’t like red color lah.
  • This food is cold lah. Can you reheat it please?
  • This tea is too hot lah. Can you tarik it for me? (Manglish Bonus Point: two street slang words in one go)

So try it. Use the lah. Use it everywhere. Have fun with it, because this doesn’t work outside Malaysia. Where else can you mess up English like this and get away with it?

Now for the list of stuff to try.

10 Ways to Experience Kuala Lumpur Like a Local

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#1 – Taste Signature Malaysian Dishes in KL

Oh the food. KL is a terrible place to be on a diet. If you’re visiting for the first time, don’t even try.

Trying to describe Malaysian food in one blog post is like trying to describe that Avatar planet in one sentence. We have such an incredible variety of grub here that no amount of writing is ever going to do justice to our endless array of gastronomic delights. For the sake of readers however, I will simplify the must-try list of KL-Malaysian foods per below.

Roti canai and teh tarik combo. This is a common Malaysian staple of Indian-Muslim origin. Roti canai is a type of flat bread that is made by spinning the dough in the air until it stretches out. Teh tarik is milk tea that gets its name from being ‘pulled’ – poured in a long stretch from one container to another, until it develops a surface foam. If you’re at the right places, you’ll get to view the impressive theatrics of the undeniably-skilled people making these dishes.

Not a very clear video and probably not Malaysian, but this is a demo of how extreme teh tarik skills can get.

A very KL thing to do is visit a mamak (generally means Indian Muslim) restaurant or street stall, order these, then sit around chatting for hours with friends. You can do this any time of the day and almost anywhere in the city. By the way, the term ‘mamak‘ has also come to mean almost any food place that stays open late, or simply the act of hanging out at these places.

Banana leaf rice. A South Indian style of eating that’s popular in KL. It’s basically rice, curries, vegetables and your choice of Indian meat dishes served on a fresh banana leaf. I’ve done a series of restaurant reviews for KL and Klang Valley for my ‘Banana Leaf Mythbusters’ series: Devi’s Corner, Ganapathi Mess, Nirwana Maju and Moorthy’s Mathai.

The ‘proper’ way is to eat with your fingers, but you can use cutlery and nobody will care. We KLites are a laid-back bunch. So laid back we’re late all the time for everything.

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Ganesh at Moorthy’s Mathai in USJ, Subang Jaya

Nasi lemak. Traditional Malay dish, popular for breakfast. Consists of coconut milk rice, anchovies, a chilli paste, fried peanuts, cucumber and an egg. You can buy it almost anywhere here and it’s often dirt cheap.

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Pan mee. Noodle-based dish of Hakka origin. The star of this dish is the chilli powder-paste. Go easy on the heat if it’s your first time.

Nasi kandar. Rice that can be combined with various curries, meats and vegetables. Ask for a mix of all available curries to eat it like we do.

Nasi goreng. Fried rice, comes in many variations from Chinese to Kampung (village) style. (Malay: goreng = fried)

Noodles. Laksa, mee kolok, tomyam, curry mee, mee goreng mamak, Maggi goreng, fried koay teow. (Note: mamak = Indian Muslim; this term may also be used to refer to hawker and street food in general).

Chinese street and hawker food. Chinese food here is phenomenally delicious. Also, unlike most street fare in Southeast Asia, Chinese food is usually well-tolerated by even the most sensitive of stomachs. The reason for this is Chinese food in KL is always prepared on the spot with fresh ingredients and served piping hot (killing most bacteria like e-coli).

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Durian anything. Despite the high entertainment factor, I don’t recommend durian to foreigners anymore as they just can’t handle it. If you’d like to try one for the sake of experience, then you have an endless variety, from the fresh fruit itself to flavored desserts and ice cream.

#2 – Take a Walk Through Masjid India, Brickfields or Jalan Tengku Kelana 

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These are the ‘Little India’ parts of KL. You can walk around, window shop and simply browse without buying anything and nobody will mind in the least. The shopkeepers are usually more than willing to show you around.

These are great places to buy lungis, kurtas, bangles, bindis, spices, statues and other cool ethnic stuff without being ripped off like in other tourist traps. So walk into some clothing stores and let them tie a saree on you – they’ll do it with a smile. Or, have an Indian tailor sew you some ‘instant’ Bollywood-style stuff on the spot (they charge extra if you want it soon, but it’s totally worth it for a custom-made outfit).

After you’re done for the day, you can finish off with some delicious Indian food at one of the numerous restaurants in any one of those areas.

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Recommended restaurants: Saravana Bhavan (pure vegetarian, Masjid India and Brickfields), Gem Restaurant, Taj Garden, Chat Masala, Anjappar Chettinad, Jassal (all Brickfields).

#3 – Check out the Bukit Bintang Area

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This is the more glitzy part of town and it doesn’t sleep. Bukit Bintang (Literal translation: Star Hill) includes Changkat Bukit Bintang (nightlife and clubs), Bintang Walk (shopping malls, street stalls, buskers), Starhill Gallery (upscale mall), Lot 10 (mall) and more of that kind of thing. There’s a whole lot to do here, so take a stroll and look around. Lots of Arabic culture here too, so you can try the food or indulge in some shisha.

The Sahara Tent is my shopping pit stop, where I refuel on Arabian mint tea and to-die-for baklava.

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If you decide to hit the clubs, the great news is that you can always find a place to eat after you’re done, even if that means 4am. This is thanks to the concept of 24-hour mamak restaurants and stalls in KL. So if you need an ice-lime drink and a hot meal to sober up, you’ll always have some place to go in KL.

#4 – Visit Places of Worship

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I think it’s always nice to follow a local friend to visit their place of worship, regardless how you feel about religion and higher powers. In my experience, most Malaysians will gladly take you with them for prayers, provided you have an open mind.

The main religion in Malaysia is Islam, followed by Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. So there’s a whole bunch of pretty temples and mosques around, such as the National Mosque, Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple, Batu Caves Hindu Temple. My favorite is the red Putra Mosque, picturesque on a lake in Putrajaya. Do note that if you’d like to visit places of worship, you’re required to dress modestly (for mosques, you’d be required to cover your body, full arms and legs, plus hair and neck for women).

Most churches in Malaysia are unfortunately square and boring on the outside, as I’ve heard it’s got something to do with regulations about the architecture for Christian buildings. This is a real shame, but then again there’s always Europe for those gorgeous Gothic and Baroque cathedrals.

#5 – See the Whole City by Train (LRT)

In Kuala Lumpur, almost every major tourist attraction is accessible by trains. It’s such a cheap and convenient way to see the city. There’s the LRT and Monorail (these go high above the ground, so you get a good view of the sights and can decide to get off at stops if you see a place that catches your fancy) and KTM train (ground level).

Consider buying an LRT token for a long random journey across KL city – it’s kind of like a tour bus, but you get to people-watch as well since regular Malaysians use these trains for their daily commutes.

KL Sentral is the main station where all the trains meet, so that’s a good place to start when planning your journey. Carry an umbrella (or use a cap / hat) and water with you if you ever plan to walk for long distances in KL. So yes, travel like we do.

#6 – Immerse Yourself in the KL Art Scene: Visit Balai Seni Visual Negara (National Visual Arts Gallery) or Support Indie Music at Merdekarya

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This place is worth your time if you’re a lover of visual art, and would like a taste of what Malaysian artists have to offer. Balai Seni Visual Negara houses some truly fantastic pieces from local talents, many of whom are not internationally known.

The building itself is spacious, well-maintained and beautifully minimalist in terms of design. The best part is that this place is almost always empty – for some peculiar reason, Malaysians don’t seem to value visual art all that much.

If art galleries are not your thing, head over to Merdekarya for some indie music. Fantastic place with a very down-to-earth vibe, it’s well-known in local art circles. Remember to bring enough to tip the musicians.

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Volatile, one of my favorite local bands – the kind of music you get at Merdekarya. From left: Raul Dhillon, Jaime Gunther, Sean Choon, Jordan Scully and Reuben Tor

#7 – KL Bird Park

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A pleasant free-flight aviary with plenty of free-ranging, friendly birds. The whole area is canopied with netting that keeps it cool in the day. KL Bird Park is good for adults and kids alike. Great for practicing your photography as the birds come up close.

#8 – Muzium Negara (National Muzium)

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Some people think muziums are lame, but hey, they’re good places to be if you like history. Muzium Negara is quite nicely done, and if you feel like a leisurely stroll down Malaya Memory Lane for the cost of practically nothing, go here. Dioramas, artifacts, stories about the Colonial Era and the Sultanate…you may just end up enjoying yourself. After all, how often do you get to selfie with a bunch of ancient Malay dudes?

#9 – Hang Out at Malls

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Surprised that I’m recommending something as dumb as malls? Hear me out.

Malls here are huge, common, easily accessible by public transportation and a pleasant way to cool off after the unbearable midday heat. Also, great for shopping as there’s always some kind of sale going on. In addition, consider catching a movie at GSC, MBO or TGV, as most major malls have a cinema.

And you know what? Malls are a very KL thing. We do this a lot.

Recommended malls: Suria KLCC, Pavillion KL, Midvalley Megamall, One Utama, Sunway Pyramid, Mitsui Outlet Park KLCC.

#10 – Hiking

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The best part about KL is that you don’t need to drive out that far from the city for a good hike. There are trails and spots varying from easy to challenging, depending on what you need. Check out FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia – easy), Bukit Broga (moderate), all Bukit Tabur treks (can be challenging), Bukit Gasing Forest Reserve (easy to moderate) and more.

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Additional Tips:

  • As a tropical city, KL can get very hot. Protect your skin, head and stay hydrated. Avoid the midday heat.
  • Most places accept credit cards, but KL is not completely cashless. Do carry hard cash with you.
  • Taxis can be expensive. Ubers are more cost-effective here.
  • Busses are not very reliable, but if you have time to kill or a friend to go with you, that’s fine. Trains are the best and cheapest way to get around as traffic can be terrible in KL.
  • KL is a modern city and accepting of most foreign cultures. However, it’s wise to be sensitive to Islamic customs if you’re going to a place frequented by many Muslims, such as a mosque. In such cases, dress modestly and don’t carry / consume with food with pork or alcohol in it to avoid offending anyone.
  • KL is not vegan-friendly. Regular restaurants don’t really understand the term. Most Indian shops will understand what ‘vegetarian’ means and won’t add egg to your food, but may add dairy products. If you’re vegan, do specify that you don’t want egg, milk, yoghurt, meat, fish or seafood added to your food (if you’re particular).

 

Related Links:

Merdekarya – The Original Malaysian Music Bar

Volatile Band Page

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur)

 

Demystifying the Deck: An Introduction to Tarot

by Princess Draupadi

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Tarot cards are among the most misunderstood things on this planet. Often, people don’t know how to perceive or react to the practice of tarot reading.

Common misconceptions about the use of tarot is that it’s Satanic, irreligious, occult, evil, a black magic thing, witchcraft, requires the help of supernatural beings and so forth. I blame the media for this ridiculous sensationalization of a fairly innocent practice, the whole gypsy-crystal-ball-creepy-readings-by-candlelight nonsense.

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What Are Tarot Cards?

They’re just cards. Regular cards.

In modern times, tarot readers generally use these cards for divination purposes. For example, if a tarot reader has a client that requests a reading to know what the year 2018 has in store for her, the tarot reader will lay out a number of cards, usually in the arrangement of one of the many commonly-used tarot spreads, such as the Celtic Cross. Then, the tarot reader will interpret the meanings of the cards as advice and guidance to the client regarding the year in question. At the risk of over-simplification, this is the basic idea on how tarot cartomancy works.

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The pronunciation of ‘tarot’ rhymes with ‘sparrow’ – the last ‘t’ is silent. There are endless variations of tarot decks available today. In general, each deck is divided into the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana, and is made up of 78 individual cards. Oracle cards are similar to tarot cards, but they’re not quite the same thing as a tarot deck is more structured.

In medieval Europe, tarot decks were initially used as playing cards. Later, people began using these cards for divinatory purposes. Read more on the origins of tarot here.

How Tarot Cards are Used

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Tarot cards can be read in various ways. No two tarot readers will interpret cards the same way, not even if they’re using the exact same deck, but it doesn’t mean one person is right and the other is wrong. There’s no ‘wrong’ way to use a tarot deck for readings. The way these cards are interpreted depends solely on how the tarot reader receives signals from the universe and interprets the messages to the recipient.

One way to use tarot decks is to memorize the traditionally-accepted meanings of each card, then decipher them according to the way they show up in a reading (in relation to the question asked, the type of tarot spread used, whether the card is upside down, etc.). The cards can also be used in combination with crystals, astrological guidance and more.

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As a tarot reader, my interpretation of the cards is largely based on intuition and instinct.

Are Tarot Cards Evil?

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As with every practice in this world, what makes something ‘good’ or ‘bad’ boils down very simply to intention. A doctor is ‘good’ if he (or she) treats patients with the genuine intention to help, and is ‘bad’ if he purposely misdiagnoses someone to make more money from consultation fees or treatment.

A pack of cards is essentially just that: a pack of cards. Pieces of cut and laminated cardboard, nothing more. If one’s intention is to use the cards for a negative purpose, then the deck will take on the energy of that practitioner and work accordingly. Ditto for the opposite; when a tarot reader’s intentions are positive, the cards will channel that energy and reveal answers based on those good vibrations.

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Hence why the initial consecration ritual (also known as energizing, clearing, cleansing or blessing rite) of a new tarot deck is important – it removes unwanted energy or vibrations, as well as bonds the tarot reader’s energies directly to the deck.

There are many ways to consecrate a new tarot deck. Usual methods involve smudging with sage, using incense, moonlight baths, sprinkling with sea salt and so on, depending on what the tarot reader’s spiritual values are.

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Once consecrated, a tarot deck becomes highly sensitized to universal energies as well as the energies of the tarot reader. Think of tarot cards as a tool of communication and interpretation of universal energies to us, the human beings.

The cards decipher intangible energies into messages that can be interpreted by human reasoning. When you go for a tarot reading and ask questions (or request general guidance), the cards will reveal answers to you based on the energy of your ‘seeking’ at the time of the reading.

Tarot = New Age Bullshit?

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I can almost imagine the cynical smirks of die-hard science advocates at this point. Yes, I’ve heard it all. Utter nonsense. Unscientific pagan garbage. Baseless New Age fluff. You guys are probably on the wrong website.

I suppose it’s easy to dismiss something one doesn’t fully understand. To these people, I have this to say, respectfully:

Science is a wide-eyed baby in comparison to the timeless, ageless energies of the universe. It clumsily attempts to make sense of concepts too vast for the limited human mind to fully comprehend. I love science and I’m grateful for the knowledge it has brought me, but sometimes the egoism of humanity, the chest-thumping of the labcoat-clad at having ‘discovered’ something which was always there to begin with really gets to me. Just because science cannot explain something, it doesn’t make that thing ‘invalid’. It just means science has failed to understand that particular facet of creation and decrypt that wisdom down to the layman.

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I’m in no way dismissing the importance of science nor its contribution and role in current times. However, I refuse to disregard the ancient wisdom that speaks to my innermost self and millions of other kindred spirits on this planet, simply because science has failed to explain the many mysteries of the universe. And I say this as a person with a fairly strong tertiary educational background rooted in science.

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The universal energies have always been present in trillions of different forms such as insects, animals, thunder, lightning, trees, nature or the physical vessels of human beings. Changing forms, indestructible, completing karmic cycles, from Samsara to Arianrhod’s Silver Wheel. All people of significant ancient cultures, from Celts to Native Americans, had in their possession various versions of this knowledge, which is what I consider the highest form of truth.

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These energies existed long before science barged onto the stage, slapping labels on everything in sight and dismissing anything it couldn’t explain as baseless. Long story made short, you keep your science, and I’ll keep my universal connections. To each his own.

Now, onward.

My Experience with Tarot Cards

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I first learned how to use these cards about 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve tried my hand at various types, including the infamous Thoth deck. My early years of experimentation gave me a feel of the whole practice of tarot, including what decks and spreads worked best with my energy and what didn’t.

I found that I have a strong inclination towards pagan and pre-Celtic styled decks (which are not always based on the standard tarot deck design template), as well as fantasy-themed and earth-energy oracle cards.

Getting Started with Tarot

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Getting a Tarot Reading Done for Yourself

If you’d like to experience a tarot reading, all you have to do is contact a tarot reader and make an appointment. Be sure to ask questions on what the style of reading is like, and anything you may have doubts about before you go for your first session.

Also, remember to go to a reading with an open mind. This will ensure that your ‘questions’ are energetically focused so the cards can reflect the right answers back to you. If the tarot reader mentions something that sounds negative to you during the reading, you may always ask for suggestions on how to improve or rectify the issue. Your tarot reader may do another spread to help you with this.

Becoming a Tarot Reader

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If you’d like to become a tarot reader, there are plenty of resources online for you to do some self-study to get started. It will also help tremendously if you purchase a tarot deck (such as Rider-Waite-Smith) while you’re still in the learning stages. That way, you can familiarize yourself with the cards as you go along, as well as try out the various types of tarot spreads. Once you’re more confident and have developed a good level of comfort using the cards, you can have your deck consecrated (blessed, cleansed or energized).

After that, it’s just a matter of starting. Do readings for yourself, friends or family members. Feel free to use incense, candles, lanterns, fancy tablecloths or natural crystals for your readings if you wish – these aids can help you relax and focus better.

Last but not least, remember not to stress yourself out. Don’t worry about whether you’re making mistakes or doing something wrong. Trust your intuition. Don’t rush. In time, you’ll find that readings become easier and the energies flow effortlessly.

It’s a good idea to maintain a logbook of your readings as personal records. This will enable you to see how accurate your tarot interpretations were, and if you could learn or improve something based on feedback from your clients.

See Also:

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Thaipusam: A Malaysian Indian Experience

by Jana Draupadi Thevar

What is Thaipusam?

Thaipusam is quite something. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s a festival and holy day dedicated to the Hindu deity Muruga (also known as Karthikeya). The biggest Thaipusam celebration in the world takes place annually in Batu Caves, Malaysia. Smaller-scale celebrations also take place in other locations, mainly Penang and Ipoh.

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I was in Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple in South India last year after my yoga course, and one of the street vendors handed me a name card. Guess what? It had a picture of Batu Caves on it, under the words “Sila Datang Lagi”. I mean, how cool is that? Malaysian Indian pride! Vetrivel Murugannuku Arohara!

The festival is made up of so many things. I don’t quite know how to describe Thaipusam in simple terms. It’s not just a cave temple, 272 steps and a big golden statue that offends religious fanatics of unrelated faiths for no apparent reason. Thaipusam is spiritual, religious, fun, exciting, overwhelming, chaotic, controversial, shocking, mesmerizing, colorful, loud and awe-inspiring. Yes, all at once.

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It’s having between one to two million people in one location for the purpose of taking part in one of the most thrilling religious experiences in the world. It’s thousands of pierced human beings, with spears through their tongues and cheeks, single-mindedly making their way through absolute chaos to reach the temple on the top of the hill to fulfil their vows. There’s a silver chariot procession. Lots of coconut breaking. Dancing kavadi bearers and urmi drums.

Attendees of the festival? About as diverse as it can get. Old, young, Indian, Chinese, white, black, devotees, atheists, locals, tourists, vendors. The usually calm temple grounds explode into a pandemonium of sights and sounds for an all-encompassing sensory experience.

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Experiencing Thaipusam for the First Time?

If you’re new to this and would like to experience the festival first-hand, I have some words for you: it will be an experience of a lifetime for sure, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. If you can’t deal with massive crowds, loud noises, shocking sights, garbage, tropical heat and / or rain and the subsequent burning tar roads and / or mud-sludge, Thaipusam in Batu Caves is not for you (try Penang for a milder version).

If you’re a thrill-seeker, adventurous enough and game for it, then…welcome, welcome! Be prepared to have your senses assailed and for an experience you can talk about till your dying day. To get the best out of your Thaipusam experience, go with a trusted Malaysian Indian friend or family and you’ll be just fine. They will brief you on the precautions, take care of you and show you the ropes.

Why Thaipusam is Celebrated

Very briefly, the religious story goes something like this. Lord Muruga, one of the most powerful deities in Hinduism, is asked to defeat a powerful and evil demon. He was provided with divine weapons by his parents, Lord Shiva and the Goddess Parvati. The most powerful weapon he received was a celestial spear from his mother (Tamil translation: vel). After a long and difficult battle, Lord Muruga successfully vanquished the demon. During the festival of Thaipusam, one will hear the chanting of “Vel, vel” or “Vetri vel” continuously (Tamil translation: vetri = victory), and this is the reason why.

Therefore, Thaipusam is a symbolic and metaphorical celebration of victory against the dark forces, as well as a day for devotees to show their love and appreciation to Lord Muruga. The act of spiritually observing and participating in the festival can also be interpreted in other ways, such as victory over a personal weakness or challenge.

Why Devotees Do What They Do On Thaipusam

The main reason why Thaipusam is so sensational among non-Hindus is the practice of mortification of the flesh, done by thousands during the festival. Devotees pierce their tongues, cheeks, chests and backs with long spears and hooks as part of their vows. They have their personal reasons for this.

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For instance, my friend had prayed for the speedy recovery of his mother who was suffering from cancer. His mother eventually got better, and he made a vow to carry a kavadi the following year and have his body pierced with 108 steel hooks. I have never done it, but I see tongue-piercing as a symbolic act of ‘victory’ over the organ of taste and speech, which is capable of making one a slave to the senses, or cause damage to others merely by the use of words.

My family astrologer and priest, gurukkal Velu Iyer, shared similar views with me about this. He said that the tongue is an organ that can be detrimental to spiritual advancement. The tongue can cause one to become attached to sense gratification, such as becoming addicted to food, leading to greed and gluttony.

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The organ can also cause problems if one utters words that are negative or cause harm to others due to improper speech. He told me that piercing the tongue with a small spear for Thaipusam is one way to increase one’s awareness of such things, and gain spiritual control over these weaknesses. In some ways, it’s an act of purification and sanctification. Of course, not everybody will agree with this point of view, but this was his interpretation. Similarly, devotees have their personal reasons for the austerities they undertake during Thaipusam.

What’s Beautiful about Thaipusam

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Unity. It’s lovely to see the whole Indian community coming together from all over the country for a religious / spiritual reason. Shaivites, Vaishnavites, Sai Baba or ISKCON people, it doesn’t matter. They’re all there and everyone’s in a good mood, helping each other.

Diversity. While Hindus make up the majority of crowd, there are people of all other faiths, races and nationalities there as well. Many are friends and well-wishers of kavadi bearers who’ve come there to show their support. Others are tourists, vendors and stall owners. What’s great is everyone is helpful and respectful throughout the festival.

Festive Atmosphere and Shopping. There’s almost nothing you CAN’T buy at Thaipusam. The grounds are packed with stalls selling everything from vegetarian food to clothing, desserts to toys. My best Thaipusam buy was years ago. It was a solid bronze bangle carved with ancient dragon heads at the openings, not unlike Celtic jewellery. I bought it from a creepy-looking, dreadlocked gypsy man covered in talismans. The bangle was neatly displayed on his cloth mat of wares, next to a row of jackal skulls and rusted horseshoes.

Here’s a picture of the bangle, captured by a friend in Rishikesh, sometime in 2016.

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Spiritual Experience. Even mere onlookers can benefit from the spiritual vibrations of the festival. Any observer will quickly realize that carrying a heavy steel kavadi under the searing Malaysian heat, in addition to having to navigate through a jam-packed colossal crowd while barefoot, then climbing 272 stairs up a hill is no easy feat.

Bear in mind that most kavadi bearers have undergone severe penance leading up to Thaipusam (usually 40 days or more), which means a strict vegetarian diet, complete abstinence from sex, sleeping on the floor and more. How do they do it? Two words: faith and devotion.

The Bad and the Ugly

I guess I can’t ignore the embarrassing news that make Malaysian headlines each year, so I may as well talk about it. You know that saying in Malay, kerana nila setitik, rosak susu sebelanga? That’s pretty much sums up the behavior of certain members of the Malaysian Indian community.

Gang fights. Judging by past year occurrences, Thaipusam seems to be a popular time for this activity, and Batu Caves the chosen venue. Which baffles me…why? Machas have 364 other days in the year for limb amputation, parang-wielding, beheading and screaming slogans while brandishing numbered signs and flags.

Malaysia is a spacious country too, and Batu Caves isn’t the best venue for gang-clashing. Consider our country’s numerous crematoriums – spacious, peaceful, no police in sight for miles. And such convenience to dispose of those of you who don’t make it.

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Saree Blouse Moral Compass Committee. So we have this bunch of, er, well-meaning Malaysian Indian brothers who have deep concerns about the styles of saree blouses worn by women during Thaipusam. Too sexy, back too low, front too open, sleeves too short, etc.

I was always under the impression that if one attends a religious or spiritual festival, one’s attention should be focused on said religious or spiritual festival. You know, the whole inner peace, we-are-not-this-body and God-is-within thing. Not on trending saree blouse designs in the vicinity of Batu Caves and how much skin is showing. So dear brothers, if you make an attempt to focus on your faith and devotion, perhaps look inward instead of outward, you’ll save yourselves a lot of stress. People are responsible for their own words, thoughts and actions. If their choice of fashion offends Lord Muruga, he will deal with that and it’s really not your problem.

Perhaps you’d judge a woman for her manner of dressing in a temple, then go home and forget about it. Fair enough, that’s your right to do so. I’ve seen bottles of Club 99 littered around my office after weekends. Common Google searches that lead people to my blog include “Tamanna topless saree” and “mallu big boobs wet saree” (I’m sorry you were led to my article on how to wash silk sarees with an image of a decently-clad Tamanna). Can Lord Muruga see these things? Of course not. He’s in Batu Caves. Right?

To those brothers who are still overly fascinated with saree blouse designs, I highly recommend a trip to Tengku Kelana Road in Klang town. The tailors there will be more than happy to provide you with catalogues on the latest jacket designs. You could probably buy the catalogues off them to have your own copy and skip Thaipusam the following year altogether for everyone’s sake.

Vanthutanunge.

Disagreements. Some say the temple committee is corrupt. Others have something to say about the way Thaipusam is organized. And there’s that concern about milk wastage. I kind of agree with the last point. Anything offered to the deity should be consumed as prasada because it’s highly energized and blessed food, so what’s the point of letting it run down the drain? Quite insulting.

If after all these years the temple committee has still not figured out a way to collect the milk for consumption of the devotees, let me share something I practice which may be useful. Every year about a week before Thaipusam, I take offerings (milk, fruits, flowers) for the deity and have my archanai done, in any temple where there’s a Muruga deity. That way, at least I know the milk will be used for temple purposes such as cooking. The priests can have it too, I don’t mind, as long as it doesn’t go to waste.

Summary

So there it is, my take on the Malaysian Indian Thaipusam experience. I will continue to attend Thaipusam because I love it. I enjoy the good, ignore the bad and just have a great time with a delicious glass of mooru from the free stalls.

Vetrivel Murugannuku Arohara!

 

Related Links:

Bhakti Yoga through the Art of Puja (Part 1)

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha (Part 1)

Mahabharata Indian Art Series by Giampaolo Tomassetti

Restaurant Review: La Cocina (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

by Jana Draupadi Thevar

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This Spanish cuisine restaurant has been a Subang Jaya icon for quite awhile now. I remember that more than a decade ago it was in USJ 9, within the Taipan Business Center. I was in college back then, and working part-time in a call center situated right behind the restaurant.

La Cocina’s head chef, Mr. Jega, sometimes stood outside the restaurant, in the junction-alleyway that I walked through to get to work. He was a friendly man with a ready smile, making small talk and always inviting me to come in and try the food. I always promised him that I would, but I didn’t think it would take me more than 10 years to finally step in! Hence, this is a long-delayed review.

La Cocina recently moved to Taipan Triangle in USJ 10. It’s my mum’s favourite restaurant, so we went there for dinner last week. I noticed that it’s gotten a cool new look – clean contemporary without compromising on the Spanish passion.

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Ambience and Service

I like the new makeover. The interior is spacious, unfussy and tastefully decorated, with artistic touches in all the right places. It makes for a very pleasant dining atmosphere that’s both rustic and modern at the same time. Service staff were friendly, polite and attentive. I felt that the décor could use a little more of that hot-blooded, Flamenco vibrancy of Spain. But hey, that’s just me and my usual flamboyant taste.

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Food

My mum had Pescado Fritos, which is essentially fish and chips (RM26). I ordered two dishes: the Queso Manchego (RM27.90), which is pure sheep milk cheese from the La Mancha region in Spain, and the Lamb Lasagne (RM27.90).

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Both main dishes were quite good. I wouldn’t say outstanding, but they were pleasant on the taste buds. The fish was firm and succulent, the fried batter crispy and not too oily. The lasagne could’ve done with a bit more minced lamb, but overall tasted great.

The cheese was excellent! It was soft and crumbly, flavourful without being overpowering. The serving size for the cheese was surprisingly small considering the price, so I made a mental note to check the prices of whole-wheel Manchego to see if the cost was justified.

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They stock an impressive selection of wines too. If you become a member of their wine club, you’ll enjoy discounts on selected wines and special corkage rates.

Summary

My overall experience here was quite delightful. It’s too bad that I forgot to have a look upstairs, but judging from the pictures on the website, it looks pretty impressive. I may consider going back to try one of their paellas sometime if I can get a friend to split the dish with.

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Special mention on the quality and freshness of all raw produce used in the dishes, as this imparted the lively burst of sun-energized ingredients into the final meal. Which, to me, makes all the difference in the end.

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My Ratings:

Food (Lamb Lasagne): 7/10
Food (Fish and Chips): 6/10
General Cleanliness: 10/10
Ambience: 8/10
Service: 10/10
Price: 5/10
Location (Subang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur): 7/10
Will I go back again : 7/10

Update: I received a nice message from Chef Jega himself! How lovely indeed.

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Related Links:

La Cocina – Spanish Restaurant and Bar

Restaurant Review: Bali & Spice (Subang Jaya, Malaysia)

Restaurant Review: Alexis Bistro and Wine Bar (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Malaysia)

*Photo credit: Main image of paella dish is taken from La Cocina’s official webpage.

Restaurant Review: Bali & Spice (Subang Jaya, Malaysia)

by Princess Draupadi and Vas P.

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So it was one of those weeknights when Vas and me were doing that back and forth thing about dinner plans.

“So where do you wanna go?”
“I dunno. Where do you wanna go?”
“Anywhere. Where’s good?”

Silence. We crack our heads. Then suddenly she’s like, “I know the perfect place! It’s nearby! Can you do large portions?”

I roll my eyes. But of course. I can literally eat my body’s weight worth of anything when hungry enough.

So we drive over to Da Men Mall in USJ Subang Jaya. It’s brand spanking new, but a pretty lame excuse for a mall in terms of shopping. However, since we were going there for food, whatever. We parked and made our way to this restaurant called Bali & Spice.

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Ambience And Service

It appears that Bali & Spice is under the management of the same group of restaurants as Ole-Ole Bali, which I am familiar with (branches in Sunway Pyramid and Empire Shopping Gallery). Just like their other restaurants, the first thing you notice is the gorgeous Balinese décor. I don’t know why, but I just have to meddle with the bronze gong at the entrance each time I go to one of these places. Yes, the gong is real AND nobody ever stops me when I do that. How cool is that?

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I really have to commend the management for the stunning interior décor of their chain of restaurants. The wall art, furniture, menu design and everything, literally perfect. From the woven mengkuang placemats to the fresh ginger lilies in glass vases, an impressive effort. A 10/10 from me for ambience, vibe, visual and styling. Service was excellent. The serving staff were all attired in traditional Balinese clothing in keeping with the theme.

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Food

THIS. Food like this is what I call value for money, time and effort spent in eating out. I ordered the Jimbaran Grill (RM39) and Vas had the Ikan Salmon Bakar (RM37). Generous portions, reasonable prices. The Jimbaran Grill consists of grilled white fish fillet, large prawns and squid accompanied by two types of sambal (spicy paste). If you’re a seafood buff, this dish is a must-try. It’s such a divine pleasure to the tastebuds.

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The seafood was perfectly seasoned and spiced, cooked impeccably and presented beautifully. I’m great at detecting individual flavors in spice blends, but these dishes gave me a good challenge. I could taste the tang of lemongrass and ginger flower, but everything else was a pleasant mystery. I say the chefs deserve recognition for their outstanding culinary skills. Great job!

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I took a bite of the salmon. It wasn’t as satisfying as mine, but good nevertheless. I think salmon in general isn’t the best fish for Indonesian-Malay cooking styles, considering the oily flesh. Still, no complaints. We had matching Indonesian salads that accompanied the dishes. Not sure what that’s called, but it goes great with the sambal.

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Summary

I would highly recommend any of the restaurants under the same management. The overall quality and service has remained great over the years. Food isn’t overly spicy either, so it’s a perfect place to take your foreign guests.

To conclude, this restaurant has the highest

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My Ratings:

Food (General): 9/10
Food (Jimbaran Grill): 10/10
Food (Ikan Salmon Bakar): 8/10
General Cleanliness: 10/10
Ambience: 9/10
Service: 10/10
Price: 8/10
Location (Subang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur): 7/10
Will I go back again : 10/10

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Related Posts:

Restaurant Review: Alexis Bistro and Wine Bar (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Restaurant Review: Fuel Shack (Bangsar South, Malaysia)

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Malaysia)

Restaurant Review: Alexis Bistro And Wine Bar (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

by Princess Draupadi20171220_184235

Our group of eight decided to have an early Christmas team dinner, so we made a reservation at Alexis @ The Gardens in Midvalley mall. We were a little surprised when the waiter ushered us to a table outside the restaurant, but it didn’t bother us too much so we accepted the spot. However, if you don’t like the idea of dining in the middle of a busy mall, do specify it when making your reservation at the Midvalley outlet.

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Ambience and Service

The restaurant décor is chic-minimalist with a hint of lux, per Alexis’s usual vibe. The mood lighting is perfect for long, relaxed conversations. A little noisy, but perhaps that’s just a seasonal thing as it’s close to the holidays and the mall is crowded. The staff were helpful; they were kind enough to ‘rush’ an order of strong coffee for my boss who was having a bad migraine.

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Food 

They have an impressive wine selection and an interestingly varied tapas menu. I had the Slow Roasted Duck Magret (RM48) – it was well cooked and succulent, but the portion was ridiculously small considering the price. It was gone in literally four bites. This dish is a real disappointment in terms of serving size. I’d never order it again.

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My colleague Esmond had the Sarawak Laksa at RM29. It was a big portion and looked really tempting. He said it tasted good, though not exactly on par with the traditional dish (Esmond is from Sarawak). Choi Wan had Angelhair Aglio Olio (RM45, regular-sized portion), which she remarked was satisfactory. It came with this cool-looking crayfish thing, which was cleanly split in half and seasoned liberally.

Syirah ordered the Slow Cooked Lamb Shank (RM72), which came with pilau rice, pomegranate and smoked capsicum. I tried a little. It was tender and came off the bone easily, but it was too bland for Syirah and me. Considering that we’re Indian and Malay by ethnicity, we’re probably too used to stronger spices when it comes to lamb.

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Other dishes that came our way were Baked Button Mushrooms (RM20), Fried Calamari Rings (RM24) and three orders of steak in varying weights (Striploin Grain-Fed @ RM70 / 220gms, Ribeye Black Angus @ RM85 / 220gms, Tenderloin Grain-Fed @ RM92 / 200gms). My buddies gave the food an average to above-average rating.

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For dessert, we tried their famed Tiramisu (RM17.80). It certainly lives up to its reputation! This dessert was exceptionally good, and the serving size was generous. It had an interesting chiffon-pudding texture, topped with coarsely chopped nuts and drizzled over with a caramel-like sauce. Rich, creamy and flamboyant on the tongue, I imagine this would go great with a good, strong long black or espresso. Completely worth the price and I would say it’s quite the masterpiece.

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Summary

I’d definitely go back, but unless they do something about the duck serving size, it’s off my choice list for good. Pity, it was rather delicious and I love duck. Will definitely consider a takeaway for that divine Tiramisu in future. Do note that it’s notoriously difficult to find parking spots in Midvalley on weekends, so if you’re visiting this outlet, it may help to go a little earlier (plus make reservations in advance).

My Ratings:

Food (General): 7/10
Food (Slow Roasted Duck Magret): 6/10
Food (Slow Cooked Lamb Shank): 4/10
Food (Dessert – Tiramisu): 10/10
Food (Baked Button Mushrooms): 7/10
Drinks: 8/10
General Cleanliness: 10/10
Service: 8/10
Price: 5/10
Location (Midvalley, Kuala Lumpur): 6/10
Will I go back again : 8/10

Related Posts:

Restaurant Review: Fuel Shack (Bangsar South, Malaysia)

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Malaysia)

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Moorthy’s Mathai (USJ, Malaysia)

 

Hiking Equipment Review: Deuter AirContact 40+10 SL

by Jana Draupadi Thevar

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My Experience

I’ve been hiking and backpacking since forever. The funny thing is, I never bothered to ‘invest’ in a proper backpack. I just bought whatever was on sale in the market, would fit on my back and had sufficient space for a bunch of stuff.

That worked well enough for a while, until I ran into some annoying issues. My Lonsdale backpack held up surprisingly well over  years of travel abuse, but the PVC interior lining turned to dust one fine day for no apparent reason. As a person with allergy issues, this was a complete disaster.

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I’ve seen friends and travel partners who had it worse while on the road with me: bags falling apart at the seams, zips and buckles getting damaged, rats chewing through canvas, monkeys learning how to unzip compartments on unattended bags, back problems due to uneven distribution of carrying weight, etc.

Space was also an issue with smaller backpacks, as you’d eventually need a bigger piece of luggage for check-in, which can be a hassle when you need to travel quickly with minimal fuss. Also, wheeled luggage bags can be a nightmare when it comes to rural places. I’ve had to drag a 30-kilo bag through village sand paths (the wheels won’t work), broken cement, damaged roads, mud, potholes, up lengthy flights of stairs, cow dung and worse.

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Needless to say, I’d had enough of that. I can’t believe I didn’t get a proper backpack sooner. I HATE my stuff falling apart mid-travel. So, when I came across a random Deuter backpack sale at Sunway Pyramid, I got myself not one, but two bags (50 and 70 litres). Malaysians will know why I did this; Deuter bags are notoriously expensive here. At 50% off the regular price, it was a steal.

I was also curious with regards to quality and performance. I’m always sceptical when it comes to hyped-up mainstream things. Was Deuter really the gold standard for hiking bags, or was it all just meaningless marketing and branding fluff?

Here’s my review of the Deuter AirContact 40 + 10 SL model (for women).

Test Trip Details

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I backpacked alone to the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia for 4 days and 3 nights. While this doesn’t count as a challenging outdoor hike, it wasn’t a walk in the park either. My bag weighed a total of 13 kgs – I packed it to maximum capacity for testing purposes.

What the travel involved (per way) was a 10-minute Uber trip to the train station, a two-transit train ride totalling 2 hours of travel to the central bus terminal (TBS), an 8-hour bus ride to the island jetty, a 40-minute speedboat ride to the island, then walking by foot along the beach for another 20 minutes to the chalet. It was a lot of getting to, then on and off various modes of transportation – more tiring than it sounds.

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Comfort and Design

Amazingly comfortable as the hip and shoulder straps are well-padded, highly adjustable and can be customized for length and fit perfectly. The AirContact models are also designed for optimum air circulation to prevent excessive sweating during wear – this would be great for long hikes in hot weather.

Aesthetic-wise, I loved the blue color. All the female-model bags come with a cute yellow flower that’s actually a hair tie – how ingenious! There’s a contoured steel spine structure that fits your back curvature and gives the pack some structure. Most bags come with a handy water-proof rain cover, which is great for repelling mud too.

 

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Capacity and Weight

I was surprised that there was less space than I expected for 50 litres. However, when packed to full capacity, 13kgs was about as much as I could carry comfortably on my back (I weigh 45kgs, am slight in build with fairly good core strength). The bag itself isn’t the lightest model either, as it weighs almost 2.3kgs by itself – consider another model for long hikes.

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What’s really great about Deuter designs is that they have tons of mini compartments, loops, clips and spaces which you can literally stow, fasten or hang ANYTHING imaginable. The only limit would be your ability to carry the weight.

Durability

The material doesn’t look very long-wearing, but then again I know from experience that the nylon is light but extremely wear-resistant. The seams and stitching are pretty sturdy.

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Summary

I was pretty spent after my trip back, but it was a good kind of tired. I felt like my core got a really good workout. I could actually notice the difference in my abs! More muscle tone and flatter. Overall, no regrets, though I’d recommend a lighter model for longer hikes.

If you see one on discount, buy it! Absolutely worth the money. In the words of a good friend, the proud owner of a Deuter that has survived over 15 years of hardcore outdoor life:

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“These bags? They last forever”.

 

Related Links:

10 Tips for Women Travelling Alone in India

Ashram Vacations: An Introduction

Deuter (Official Page)

Travel Review: Boracay, Philippines

by Princess Draupadi

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Boracay! The jewel of the Philippines, some say. Cerulean-turquoise waters, tropical sun, over seven thousand islands, fresh seafood, succulent mangoes and all the great things Southeast Asia has to offer. The place has always been a mystery to me, and I’m glad I finally set foot there.

Scenery, view and island vibe

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The best thing about the combination of tropical sunlight, lush volcanic-soil vegetation and clear seawater is the way the colors come alive. Emerald-chartreuse greens punctuated by lazy seabirds, sparkling sapphire waters fading into the golden-white sand. A literal feast for the eyes. It’s the kind of island where you can sit around all day, eating dragonfruits and letting the purple juice run down your chin, taking in the dazzling brilliance of your surroundings and just do absolutely nothing. Yes, it’s that beautiful.

Vibe-wise, it’s laid back. Quiet and relaxed. Not overly crowded with touristy types. Most people on the island appear to be simple village folk. They live fuss-free lives, plying their trade, usually selling local produce and seafood. It’s a far cry from the booze-and-drug-fuelled-party-hype of Balinese and Thai beach nightlife; nothing like the backpacker islands on the Malaysian East Coast either. Boracay is like a legendary island princess – exotic, mysterious and modest, whose real beauty is to be seen and appreciated by the chosen few. Don’t come here for crazy drunken nights and full moon parties.

Food

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Seafood is cheap, fresh and plentiful. Prices are reasonable at tourist-standard spots. The main area in town where most restaurants are based is called D’Mall – not quite a mall, more like an open-air area of eateries, souvenier shops, clothing stalls and the usual stuff catering to tourists.

Hobbit Tavern

If you’re from Malaysia or Indonesia, be prepared for the ‘unusual’ taste of some dishes. I’m adventurous and adaptable enough, but I’ve heard many complaints along the lines of ‘Filipino food tastes very weird”. There’s a mini supermarket in town where you can buy stuff like toiletries, milk, cookies, instant coffee, bread and crackers. I found that prices at this place were quite high.

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I’ll be honest; I didn’t quite like the fish and chips fried in coconut oil (yes, coconut oil of all things – The Hobbit Tavern) and the bland soup featuring a sad chunk of chicken with the life boiled out of it (Jeepney). On the other hand, the grilled squid was great, with just the right amount of flavor and tangy zest (Jeepney), as was the seafood pasta (The Hobbit Tavern). Stay away from the soupy stuff and you should be fine. Food in general is not overly spicy.

Jeepney

Local tip: A wonderful Filipino girl at Jeepney did this for me and my friend when we said we were Malaysian. She chopped up some bird’s eye chillies, put the pieces into a saucer and poured some salty soy sauce over it. Then, she squeezed lime juice into the mix and gave it a good stir, before telling us to use it as a dip for seafood. It was literally AMAZING. I would’ve never thought something so simple could bring out the subtle flavours of seafood so well, and it had just the right amount of zing. Perfect!

Places to stay

Shang

Accommodation is easily available, from budget to more high-end places. I stayed at Shangri-La Boracay because my friends work there, and we got the rooms for free (lucky me). And Shang being Shang, there’s nothing much to say about it except everything was literally perfect. The resort is gorgeous, the architecture and landscaping stunning. You’re waited on hand and foot by extremely attentive staff. In other words, Shangri-La = an impeccable experience in all ways. The only downside was that the resort was on the other end of the island, and getting ‘out’ was impossible by foot. However, they had regular shuttles to town for that purpose.

Shopping

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Forget it. If you already have experience travelling in Southeast Asia, there’s literally nothing new to buy here. It’s all the same stuff again and again. Beach dresses, shell jewellery, keychains, wife-beaters, mugs, tote bags and Rasta-themed red-yellow-green stuff (I never figured out Boracay’s obsession with reggae culture, but I bought a Bob Marley pareo anyway because I’m a huge fan). Virgin coconut oil is sold everywhere, as are local dried mangoes. And oh, they have purses made of real, whole bullfrogs, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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Weather

Tropical mostly with occasional rain. Plan carefully around the island’s monsoon seasons as the weather can change drastically. We went out sightseeing one night and were suddenly caught in a full-blown typhoon that came out of nowhere. Best to carry a light raincoat or foldable umbrealla when you’re out and about.

Currency

Filipino pesos. It appears that exchange rates are far better in your own country, unless you carry US Dollars with you. Money changers are easy to find.

Nightlife

I didn’t go to any clubs, but the island seemed to generally lack good nightlife. Nobody tried to sell me drugs or sex either.

Beach activities

There’s the usual like snorkeling, diving, paraw sailing, catamaran, yacht, jetski and more. PADI courses are offered on Boracay, but I decided to do mine in the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia.

Verdict?

Great place to go for a couple, a bunch of friends or with family. Expect slightly higher prices and be wary of the monsoon season (the typhoons in the Philippines are not to be taken lightly). I wouldn’t recommend single travelers to go here as there isn’t all that much to do alone.

See Also:

Index of Articles

 

 

Restaurant Review: Fuel Shack (Bangsar South, Malaysia)

by Princess Draupadi

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So, we went out for lunch last week to this place, which is fairly new. If you want to try it out this weekend, it’s located in this building called Connexion @ Nexus, on the Ground floor between Souled Out and Starbucks, Bangsar South.

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I sulked a little after we chose our table and sat down, and I had a good look at what the other diners were having. It sucked even more once the food arrived. Why? Because this place makes me want to have a boyfriend, especially like this one bodybuilder ex I had.

You see, I absolutely loved the Coke Float, but the Fuel Shack serves it in only one size: freaking GIGANTIC. It was so much more convenient and fun to share large helpings of food when I was dating someone. Plus, when your date has the appetite of a water buffalo, you never have to worry about how you’d look pigging out, nor fret that any food would go to waste. Especially as a chick. So date me someone.

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Nah, I’m playing. I’d rather down my body weight’s worth of sugary carbonated float and welcome diabetes with open arms than risk yet another mess of a relationship, just so I can share a float. Which, by the way, I totally ended up wasting.

But seriously, Fuel Shack people, if any of you guys are reading this – wtf? PLEASE offer realistic sizes for floats. Pretty please. The stuff is delicious, but we’re not whales.

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The food in general is above average. We were a team of 10, so there was a variety of stuff I managed to get a taste of. I asked around and everyone seemed to agree with one thing more or less: the fare was a tad bit lacking in flavor and salt. It was pretty good stuff otherwise, reminiscent of TGI Friday’s and Chilli’s, just a little lacklustre overall.

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To their credit, all ingredients used in the dishes were incredibly fresh, and that’s something I really appreciate when it comes to eating out. The Chilli Chicken Fries (above – RM13) and Nachos (below – RM29) were amazingly good – couldn’t get enough of those. Fried Tempura Calamari, so-so (RM21).

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My Crispy-Skinned Grilled Salmon (below – RM38) had great texture, but the accompanying sauce (which was served separately) had an odd vinegary taste. I eagerly dumped the whole sauceboat over my salmon before I even had a taste, so don’t be the idiot that I was. I chose mac and cheese, sauteed vegetables and mushrooms for the three accompanying sides. Overall, my meal was alright, though slightly on the bland side. Pretty small helping of fish.

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Would I return? I would, since I work so near the place. But considering Bangsar South’s horrendous traffic situation, I’d probably not bother if I had to make a long journey to get here, or eat close to rush hour.

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The staff are lovely people too, good service. Be warned: if it’s your birthday, they’re going to make you stand on a chair and sing into a salt shaker.

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My Ratings:

Food (General): 7/10

Food (Crispy-Skinned Grilled Salmon): 6/10

Food (Chilli Chicken Fries): 8/10

Food (Nachos): 8/10

Food (Fried Tempura Calamari): 6/10

Food (BBQ Chicken Wings, according to my buddy Esmund): 7/10

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Drink (Coke Float): 8/10

General Cleanliness: 10/10

Service: 10/10

Price: 7/10

Location (PJ): 5/10

Will I go back again : 10/10

 

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Do Crash Diets Really Work?

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

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The short answer is, no – they don’t. The health experts were right. A healthy, balanced diet will do more to help you lose weight in the long term, but starving yourself is always a bad idea.

What happens with most ‘starve-yourself-skinny’ diets is this: while you may lose weight temporarily by depriving yourself of food, you’ll also mess up your normal metabolism and shock your body into ‘starvation mode’. When this happens, your body will start preparing to conserve more energy instead of burning it.

The old saying ‘you are what you eat’ couldn’t be more true. Think about this; the food you consume is constantly transforming into bits and pieces of your body – it gets digested and broken down, then replaces old, worn and dead cells. The better the quality of your food, the better the ‘quality’ of the body built from it. Now, what kind of results can one expect from a diet consisting of mainly factory-processed, synthetic-additive-laden or stale food?

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So guess what happens when you start eating normally again, or lose control and go on a food binge? Bingo. Your body stores more calories than usual. This is why on-and-off dieting (and extreme dieting) is bad for you in the long term.

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So what’s a better solution? Eating better and ‘eating cleaner’ consistently. Practise moderation and make educated choices when it comes to your food. Think long term, because it takes time for diet changes to reflect in your body.

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What you should aim for is healthy weight and a fit, strong body. Also, be realistic about your expectations. If you have a naturally bigger frame, you may never be skinny, even at your healthiest point.

On the other hand, if you’re lean no matter what you eat, it’s unwise to push your body too hard to artificially ‘bulk up’. This will put unnecessary strain on your system. Respect your body and how it naturally works. If you know you’re exercising adequately, eating clean and nourishing food, getting the rest you need and generally living a fairly healthy lifestyle, that’s good enough. Keep your fitness and health goals realistic and don’t harm your body.

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Dieting Myths

Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates, oils and fats are not bad for you. You actually need them in your diet so your body functions at an optimum level. For instance, you do need healthy fats and quality oils in your diet to keep your skin supple and your systems well-lubricated – you can get these from extra-virgin olive oil, ahimsa dairy products, unprocessed nuts and grains and ripe avocados (monounsaturated fat).

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The real culprits are overly-processed foodstuff with cheap, synthetic ingredients (preservatives, artificial color, etc). These are hard for your body to break down, digest and absorb effectively. These foods also leave all kinds of unhealthy residue in your system (known as ama in Ayurveda) and can cause various health issues like gas, bloating and allergies.

And that’s not all. Hardcore dieting can leech your body of important nutrients, causing lethargy, weakness, fainting, weak immunity, dry skin, acne, cracked heels and worse. Always aim for fresh, vitamin and mineral-rich foods.

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Here are a few quick lists (with examples) to help improve your diet as a long-term solution to weight management.

Foods to Avoid:

  • Processed carbohydrates (factory-made noodles, instant porridge)
  • Refined sugar (white cane sugar)
  • Low-grade cooking oil (recycled cooking oil)
  • Leftovers (no longer than 2 days in the refridgerator)
  • Margerine (all kinds)
  • Unrefrigerated cooked food (Ayurvedically considered unfit for consumption after 3 hours)
  • Processed fruit juices

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Healthy Food Substitutes:

  • Honey, brown sugar, palm sugar, molasses and jaggery (instead of white sugar)
  • Wholemeal bread (instead of white bread)
  • Unpolished, parboiled or brown rice
  • Fresh milk (instead of recombined or powdered milk)
  • Extra virgin or virgin vegetable oils (instead of fractionated oils)
  • Whole grains (instead of processed grains)
  • Wholemeal flour (instead of white flour)
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (instead of canned or preserved)

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Additional Eat-Healthy Tips:

  • Consume something fresh every day (fruits or vegetables)
  • Match each serving of carbohydrates with an equal-sized serving of fresh produce
  • Eat normally for breakfast and lunch, but prepare a nutrient-dense, low-carbohydrate dinner (e.g. a large bowl of salad with a few cubes of feta cheese, plus a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil)

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A Final Note

Never torment your body for the sake of unrealistic ideals portrayed by the media. You may never be supermodel-skinny even at your healthiest point, and that’s perfectly okay.

Love your body, respect it, appreciate it and help it stay healthy. It’s been working hard for you since the day you were born, through millions of complex bodily processes every single day.

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Related Link:

Kitchiri, the Best Sattvic Detox Food

Hatha Yoga for Weight Loss