Monday, January 25, 2016

Toys for Boys

Every year, the boys get presents for their birthday and Christmas. So lucky eh. After many years of experience, I learnt NOT to get battery-operated toys. Because the collateral cost of buying a steady supply of batteries is not fun.

Last year, for Christmas, I told the boys, "NO TOYS WITH BATTERIES"

Well, didn't work....

 These two devours batteries like cookie monsters.
But I must admit, they are cool toys. The home bowling arcade is fun for the whole family.
And the remote control car, which is ALWAYS a favourite for boys, is controlled with a steering wheel, not by the typical console with buttons.

This is one of the best toy I got for them last year. NO batteries!
I got this from Typo when they released a series of nostalgic retro toys.
It's tabletop pool game, just a tad bigger than an A4 size, and the quality is superb.
Darren particularly enjoys playing this, and there were many times he surprised us with his accuracy.

Who doesn't know Jenga. 
They don't usually look so calm like this. Towards the precarious end, both of them are like squirming and fidgeting nervously, and screaming JENGA JENGA like crazy. Haha.

Another favourite non-battery toy we play is the ubiquitous Lego. Thank goodness they are not really crazy about it or I will be broke! Speaking of which, Legos' value increase higher than gold's! That's why a lot of people are investing and trading Legos now. Mad!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

To be a stationer, or not to be...

I chanced upon a site that listed 8 Malaysian homegrown stationery brands and I was proud, happy, and depressed at the same time. I felt like I could've done it too, and it has been my dream to grow a simple and beautiful brand of home goods and stationery, and some day, basic fashion.

I have followed Mossery since they were starting out on Etsy, I even bought a few notebooks from them. Now they are a full fledge stationer. I'm so happy for the founders.

And I didn't know there is a letterpress machine in Malaysia. I have been looking for one like crazy! But that craze has sort of died down. Still, I'm impressed.

I asked myself, would I have taken that road? Quit my job and pursue this dream? Would my brand become popular? Or would I file for bankruptcy? I will never know. I would be sacrificing a lot of things that I have now. Oh, I don't know. I guess I've taken the safe road, and along the way, I've made bits and pieces of my dream come true.

Of course, my biggest dream come true is my family. Who knows, maybe I might make it one day!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Soft Serve By Grace @ Jalan Trus

UPDATE: This calming place has ceased operation.

Another dessert adventure. First, a little confession. I thought the shop's name is soft serve. We visited the shop last month, and ONLY NOW I FOUND OUT it was By Grace, one of those 'Top 10 Cool and Hip Places/Cafes in Johor Bahru". *embarrassed grin*

The interior is very simple, minimalist and soothing. I like.

The husband interrogating the staff. All these hipster places are opened by young entrepreneurs. I really salute them. I had no guts, and still don't.

This is the Osmanthus Charcoal Ice cream with wolfberries or what cool people call it now, goji berries. Well, we scientific people call them Lycium barbarum. HA!

When they served us, they explained how we can maximise the culinary creation.
The foam is flavoured. I can't remember if there were a protocol to eat it, we just savoured it our way. 



The husband was observing them as they prepared the ice creams. He said they really took meticulous care, passion and pleasure in making them. Well, I'm sure we'll be back for more!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Vietnam Holiday

My dad has been asking me for the longest time, and finally this mega family trip happened! The destination of his choice was Vietnam, which was not on my bucket list. I really thought there was nothing to do there but eat mint leaves. Well, we were wrong!

So, on board was my dad, his Vietnamese 'girlfriend', my 86-year-old grandma WHO ROCKS BY THE WAY, my uncle and his teenage son, my husband and the two boys. Being an only child, this is a lot of family members.

Unlike the other trips, I did not do a single task! My dad, bless him, booked the flights, the accommodations and organised the daily itineraries. WOW.

Here we go!

First town was Dalat. NEVER heard of it. It's a small chilly town on a mountainside. Like Cameron Highlands. The scenery was beautiful! I love how Scandinavian it looks during the journey to the town, little houses scattered against a scenic mountain view. If only we could stop the taxi to take better picture!

Buildings in Dalat, and most places in Vietnam are rows of narrow but deep shoplots and houses. They are mostly low rise. I rarely or never saw any high rise buildings. 

Apartments, hotels are in between shops and restaurants haphazardly.

The signature street food stalls with short stools and tables, like those you find in kindergarten. Most of the stalls serve pho (rice noodles), or other local delicacies.

It just seems that there is always a foodstall at every alleys.

I noticed that bridal boutiques are also quite aplenty here. The gowns are actually quite nice, nothing too fancy... simple and elegant just the way I like it.

This ubiquitous banh mi is Vietnam's most popular street food. It's just baguette sandwich with char siew, local ham, and lots of fresh raw leafy salad, and coriander.
This cart says 'Nha Trang', I wonder why, because we were in Dalat.

There are also a lot of coffee cafes. Also, with short stools and tables, fancier ones.

Our little accommodation.
Even in that small hotel in a small town, wifi is freely available, thus proving internet is now the most basic need of humankind.

Our room in a small 2-star hotel, with no heater. I panicked, but surprisingly, it wasn't that cold in the the night. 

The obsolete TV managed to entertain the boys. Not bad.

First place of interest in Dalat, and a must-visit is Hang Nga Crazy House. I totally had NO idea what it was. Now I can tell you, it IS crazy! Apparently, the architect is still building it. Almost like a never-ending story. 

There are A LOT of tunnels, shallow stairs, tall stairs, ladders, steps, nooks and crannies to squeeze into. I felt like I was in hobbit land. 

I got scared here. It was REALLY high! I was practically yelling to the boys, 'WAIT!! SLOW DOWN!! PLEASE BE CAREFUL!" But boys are boys, they just kept going faster than me. I was breathless chasing after them, and freaking out! But at one point, my breath was taken by the scenery. It was quite spectacular. 

The view from one of the highest point.

See?! It was high! Ah ma is watching us from the ground. I wonder if she is freaking out too. Oh my grandchild and great-grandchildren!

And then I realised, Crazy House is a guesthouse. You could actually stay here! I peeked into one of the rooms. Wah, really eh, got bed and dining table.

The reception.

Crazy House is indeed crazy, with a magical, semi-spooky hobbit land twist.

We were starving after all that climbing and thrill, and it was cold, so hotpot was perfect for dinner.

Ah ma had to pluck her own leafy veggies. Vietnamese food always include fresh raw leafy veggies, and lot of coriander.

The next day, we rented a mini coach for the whole day and visited the morning market first. I saw a lot of persimmons, strawberries and artichokes. Also, a lot of dried preserved ones.  Artichoke tea is popular too. 

A lot of potted flowers and plants for sale too. Too bad, we can't bring any of those home. My ah ma enjoyed looking at the flowers and the things sold at this market, quite different from ours!

Next, we took the cable car across the hills. This place is filled with pine trees. I think they are for making IKEA furnitures. I really think so!

View from our cable car.

Pine trees.

Outside the cable car station, there were a few stalls selling their local snacks. Sweet potatoes, and sausages among some of them.

Just up ahead was a temple. My dad included temple visits for my ah ma to pray. So sweet.

The next on our itinerary was the boys' highlight of the day, and possibly the whole trip. It is a waterfall park , and you can sit in one of these 'roller coaster' buggy which takes you on a thrilling ride all the way down to the where the waterfall is. There is a brake shaft you can pull to slow down if you get scared. I am scared of such thrill rides that I did not even take it.. haha. Anyway, I was the odd one out. Daniel went his teenage uncle Ivan, who was his buddy all throughout the trip, and the husband went with Darren. Only two allowed on one buggy.

Ah ma stayed put with my uncle while I took an exhausting walk down the hill. 

The waterfall.

We lingered a while here, and then went back up... the buggy, which just went straight up all the way. No way I was going to hike up.

Next stop, we took a Russian jeep up a mountain to LangBiang peak. The journey was about 10 minutes, and was very much like going up Genting Highlands.

Like all boys do, they sit at the back.

Like Queen Elizabeth... Wave ah ma!

The peak was cold! We couldn't really see the entire town properly because of the heavy mist. 

There was a small area there where eagles are trained and you can take photos with one too for a small fee.

Next stop, the strawberry farm! It was quite a long and steep way down for ah ma to walk so she didn't venture down with us. 

You get to pick strawberries! The keywords we gave the boys were "RED and BIG". Hahaha.

Their boxes got weighed and charged accordingly. I thought they were sour, but surprisingly they were rather juicy and sweet.

This is the farm's 'shopping' house where they let you try their dried and preserved snacks made from their farm's produce.

 There were dried strawberries, raspberries, orange peels, candies, potato crisps and strawberry wine.

After loading our mini coach with bottles and packets of snacks we bought from the farm, we had to go on this paddle-boat ride, on the lovely lake at the centre of Dalat town, because we had promised Darren... who was asking about the 'boat' the entire day, ever since we saw it in the morning.

At night, we visited the night market. We didn't explore much actually, partly because we were already tired and it started to drizzle. And I had a feeling it wouldn't be fun shopping here.

One of the mandatory sit-on-short-stools-to-eat-pho that everyone should do. 

The next day, we took our last tour in Dalat to the famed Flower Park.

Flowers... everywhere.

There is a flower market too where you can buy platelets, seedlings and such.

I really love these succulents, but they don't grow well in my garden because it's so hot. It's so fat and plump here in Dalat, but shrivelled and pruned up in Malaysia.

I don't really fancy flowers, I got bored and started judging  looking at visitors' fashion sense. I won't be surprised if bees target these two ladies.

So, that was our last stop in Dalat. We made our way to Nha Trang, my dad's girlfriend's hometown. It's also a small town, but by the beach. Our ride in a minibus was supposed to be scenic but it was very misty that morning, and started raining. Lucky us, we got to enjoy Dalat in good weather! The journey lasted about 3 hours, which was down and along windy roads, like Cameron Highlands. Not good for carsick people.

We reached rainy Nha Trang in the evening, in time for dinner after a good 'stationary' rest. Apparently it had been raining for days and flash floods were everywhere, including at the front of our hotel. The husband piggybacked me out from the minibus..teehee.

After settling down in our room, we ventured out for dinner at this Lantern Restaurant.

While I'd give the ambience a full star rating, the food was OK. Somehow, food here isn't as tasty as Thailand's, but quite similar. I felt it was between Chinese and Thai cooking.

 At night, we visited the mother of all embroidery centres. It's impressive. You could go blind embroidering these!

One of the huts where women sit and perform their embroidering skills.

The next day, we paid a brief visit to my dad's girlfriend's house. 
The buildings are the same, narrow and long/deep, like this hotels opposite her house.
Essentially, every floor accommodates two rooms.

The rooftop garden. Ah ma met her mom for the first time. Oops, forgot to snap a sweet picture. I must say, I'm proud of ah ma! She is ten years older but looks the same age or even younger! 

Next stop, Angkor Wat replica city.

I like the clay souvenirs they were selling.

At the entrance/exit, there were a few souvenir shops. Pearls are the most popular souvenir you can find in this town.
My ah ma choosing her pearl necklace. She was very happy with it.

Next stop, a temple visit where a majestic Goddess of Mercy statue stands. It looks similar to the one in Penang.

After that, LUNCH!
We ate at this special eatery that serves everything made of fish. The noodles in this bowl is made of fish!

They also serve this curry puff, which is not curry inside, but some kind of mashed up mushroom thingy, and it was delicious!

Next, we paid a visit to the Museum of Oceanography.

Nothing really fancy here. If you have been to S.E.A Aquarium in Singapore, you might be disappointed with this.

These models, by the way, were nice to see. There were a few miniature setups which show different fishing methods.

We saw this supercute sampan outside the museum. Yes, that round bowl boat. 

As promised to Darren (again), we hit the beach in the evening. 
I'd say, we have better beaches in Malaysia... truly.

The boys had fun feeding seagulls peanuts.

Next day, we left for Ho Chi Minh City. We made a brief transit in the beginning, before flying to Dalat earlier, and we are back here for an overnight transit before flying back to Johor Bahru.

 After checking in into our small hotel, we headed out to Ben Thanh market, their supposedly largest market in the city.

I was disappointed! This is nothing like Chatuchak market or the other markets in Bangkok. Really cannot fight. I only bought embroidered pouches as souvenirs for family and friends.

 A bit of sight-seeing. Motorcycles everywhere, which is what the city is notorious for.

 The city is like a rojak of high-end couture boutiques and fancy cafes in betweens old low-ends eateries, cheap motels and other business offices. It's quite weird. It's like you see an expensive-looking boutique right opposite of a dirty roadside hawker stall.

Our hotel. The location was strategic, just 5 minutes walk to the Ben Thanh market. But the building and the rooms were old. The elevator could only fit 4 adults, and definitely not for claustrophobics.

By night, I couldn't wait to get home! There was nothing much to see and shop for in the city. I couldn't help but compare it to Bangkok. As I packed our luggage, I was mentally planing a trip to Bangkok, I should bring my mom and aunt!

All in all, it was awesome. The kids had so much fun, and I'm happy for that. All thanks to my dad :)

And lastly... there is one final thing I need to stress on about Vietnam. It is their toilets! You CANNOT throw tissue papers into it. Our first Dalat hotel room's toilet got clogged and it was then I learnt about this. By then it was too late, because a long big piece of SHIT was floating perpetually no matter how many times I flushed (not mine). I feel so sorry for the person who has to unclog it.

So what you do is, wipe your hoohoos and booboos, and throw that tissue paper into a bin provided beside the toilet bowl. LIKE EEEWWWWW!!! 

Ha... what a way to end a post eh?