Tag Archives: Entertainment

3 Days / 2 Nights in Penang, Malaysia

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Teochew Puppet and Opera House Penang

Every time I went back to Penang, I will made it a point to walk around the old part of George Town. There is always something new to discover – whether it is a street art, cafe or shop. This time, there is no difference. I found a few new places. It was only 4 months ago since I walked around the old town. It is easy to walk around the little streets and back lanes of old town. Some streets are busier than others. The motor vehicles usually moves at a slow pace due to the narrow streets. It is quite safe to walk or to cycle.

There were many local and interstate tourists, Chinese and Malay alike, when I was there. I was told it was the school holiday. People were walking slowly and some were on hired bicycles. Most of them were looking for Penang’s famous street arts. It’s like playing a “hide and seek” find me if you can. In the hot and humid weather, it is not ideal for those who cannot take the heat. Some Chinese women were holding an umbrella sheltering from the heat. Their thinking is that “dark” is not “beautiful”. Fair skin is “nice” and perceived as an educated and refined lady. Dark skin is associated with “hard life” doing hard labour work underneath the sun. To me, that is nonsense. Some were born with a darker complexion that others. Some prefer to sun-bathed and have a nicer tone to their skin colour. After all, some sun is good with a bit of vitamin D.

Yesterday I walked around the old town for almost 3 hours. I took my time to explore the area with a little break now and then for a refreshment and snack. I found a nice traditional Cantonese pastry shop where they make a variety of “piah” (chinese biscuits) filled with sweet and savoury ingredients, “pau” (dumplings) and Chinese herbal drinks. All freshly made on the premise. I found some street arts that I have missed previously. But, the most interesting find of all has to be the Teochew museum located at 122 Armenian Street, George Town. The place is called Teochew Puppet and Opera House. It has a wide collection of iron rod teochew puppets, full dress costumes and head gears, musical instruments and an opera stage for scheduled live performance.

Teochew opera is extremely popular in olden days of Penang and usually performed at an outdoor mock-up stage to coincide with some religious festivals. The performances are not only for the human but for the Chinese deities and the “after life”. I am glad to see a place like the Teochew Puppet and Opera House, which brings back the culture and heritage to the main stream, housed in a prewar terraced double storey shophouse in a heritage protected zone area gazetted by UNESCO. It is privately owned and operated by the the 5th generation of the Kim Giak Low Choon (KGLC) Teochew Opera Troupe. All the collections in the museum were privately owned by the Goh’s family over the generations.

Ling Goh, the current owner, learnt her art forms from the age of 8. She learnt the art of opera and puppetry from her mother, who has performed in puppet show for over 50 years. She is passionate about her culture, heritage and art performances that spurred her into opening this wonderful place to share with the public. There is a small entrance fee to keep her business viable and going. I am not sure if there is any fundings from the government. I suspected there is none as this is a privately owned business driven by passion and love to preserve the art forms. However, I wish the state government, especially the tourism and cultural minister, will support and encourage a place like this.

The Teochew opera or Chinese opera is one of the oldest dramatic art forms, combines literature, music and drama with elaborate costumes and lots of make-up. The singing and music have high-pitched notes. The performance comes with stories that were told and retold for centuries – A General frames a minister and has every first-born in a village killed. A jilted lover poisons the person she holds responsible for her misery. A poor farmer gets caught up, unwittingly, in the state’s secret affairs and corruption.

Ling Goh usually plays the main character. Her skills are very versatile – she can performs as a woman, a man, an elderly – all of which were done elaborately through the costume, headgear and facial make-up. Her story is usually told through iron-rod puppets controlled by skilled puppeteers – truly a family event as Goh’s parents, brothers, nieces and sister-in-law are involved, their ages ranging from 12 to 71 years old. Her niece is now learning the art forms to carry on the Goh’s tradition into the 6th Generation! This is incredible and deserves an accolade of awards.

I was very lucky to have met Ling Goh and her staff and volunteers. They are very passionate and happy to share their knowledge and history. Every single piece of the collections in the museum has a story to tell. It is worth the visit and take some time to relax and have a chat with either one of them, including a guided tour of the collections.

They have a Facebook Page, which you can Like to find out of their latest news and scheduled performance.

The Teochew Puppet and Opera House is located at 122 Armenian Street, George Town, Penang.

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White Night Melbourne 2014

It has been a week since I came back to Melbourne after spending 2 weeks in Penang and Bangkok for Chinese New Year. I had a great time but almost didn’t make it to Bangkok wondering if it will be safe to visit due to their internal political turmoil of protestors camping and blocking some of the major streets. But my 2 nights in Bangkok on my way home was nothing but peaceful and relaxing. I went shopping. I caught the hotel river boat and the sky train.IMG_0088

Since I came back to Melbourne, I went to see Kid Creole and The Coconut live concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre. This was the first time Kid Creole has done a gig in Melbourne! It was a privilege to recall the eighties. I was also looking forward to the biggest event of the year on the weekend – White Night Melbourne 2014! A festival of arts, lights and entertainment from dust to dawn. This was the second White Night. Melbourne hosted the first White Night last year. I counted myself among the 300,000 people who flocked to the centre of the city as lucky to experience the first White Night in Australia! It was spectacular and was the best art and cultural event I have ever experienced in my life! Naturally I was looking forward to this year which started last night Saturday 22nd Feb at 7pm until 7am this morning Sunday 23rd Feb.P1160145
This year, there was much more publicity in the press, subscription newsletters and through word of mouth. There was more awareness created by the media and people. The result – more people and more crowd. I was astonished when I reached the centre of the city of Flinders Street about 11:15pm. That was about the same time as last year when I went to see the events. It was packed. Not just packed with people, but massively overcrowded with people jammed in the main intersection of Flinders and Swanston Streets. It was quite daunting and the amount of people on the flight of steps on Flinders station leading to the street were people after people. It was an unbelievable sight. Nothing I have ever seen in Melbourne. It was nothing like this last year, with a more organised crowd and a live band on the steps of the Flinders station. I quickly moved away from the main intersection fearing that at any moment if there was a sudden alarming incident, there will be an unsightly crushing of human upon human. That will be a “White Night” to remember! I was more concerned about this crowd than I was when I was in Bangkok just a week ago.P1160094
I felt more at ease once I was away from the massive crowd and walked along Swanston Street across the Princes Bridge. At the south side of the river towards the Alexandra Garden, there was the trajectory light show streaming into the almost clear and cloudy sky creating an amazing criss crossed of light beams forming an hour glass into space.P1160105

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I walked towards Alexandra Garden for one reason – to find the perfect spot to see the “faces on the trees” – an artwork by Craig Walsh called “Monument“. This was the highlight for me. Having sat down on the edge on the south side of the river, it was almost surreal to gaze across the river in the dark towards the north side at the row of trees with moving images of human faces.P1160141

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Next I made my way back to the north side of the river and headed towards Federation Square. The crowd hasn’t reduced in size. It got bigger. It was past midnight! There must be hundreds of thousands of people everywhere.P1160150
By that time I almost had it and thought I should head home until I saw a crowd queuing to get into The Forum theatre – a house of human curiosities!P1160165
I joined the queue which didn’t take long before I got inside the building. The artwork was curated by Ashley Crawford, “Cabinet of Curiosities“. I wasn’t sure what to expect except the main centrepiece at the entrance foyer looked a bit strange. The entry was free and R-rated. Underage not allowed. So I was in for a big surprise and shocking experience I told myself.P1160166

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As I entered the main theatre hall on the ground level there was a heavy heart beat – a thumping heart beat with a projection of a human heart on the main screen. It was a heart beat of a heart beat.P1160176
On ascending to the first level of the building, I entered the next hall and was not sure if I should or should not sit down. In the end I did. It was a film of naked human with hooks pierced through their skins and hung up high swinging in circle. This was an extreme to the human body. I have seen hooks pierced into human skin especially during Thaipusam in Malaysia. But I have never seen human being hung up high with hooks on the body. I was thinking the human bodies were dead bodies until their feet were placed on the ground and realised they were real and very much alive! The second segment of the film, my stomach could not take any further and I had to leave before feeling sick in my stomach!P1160170
By 2am, I have decided it was time to call it the night. The crowd hasn’t dispersed much. It was still busy. I was lucky that I live in the city fringe with easy access to Tram to go home.

Hopefully next year there will be more police patrolling the streets and crowd. This year brought out more people who were into partying than enjoying the arts and culture of the exhibitions. It was a different crowd than last year. There were alcohols and marijuana in the air. A mixture of concoction spelling disaster for parents with young children and prams in the crowded streets.

Overall the event was good for Melbourne as a world class art and culture city of Australia.

Chinese New Year 2014 at Richmond

It was only 3 weeks ago that we celebrated the end of 2013 and ushered the beginning of 2014. Not long from now, 12 days to be exact on the 31st January 2014, marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year. This is also celebrated by the Vietnamese around the world, known as Tet.

In Melbourne, the festival kicked off this weekend in Richmond, the first suburb to traditionally start the festival. The other suburbs – Box Hill, Springvale and Footscray will host the festival in the coming weekends. Melbourne CBD Chinatown and Crown Promenade are the ultimate venues for the biggest show of all – with a street parade of lion and dragon dances in the CBD, and stage performances and fireworks at the Crown Promenade.

This is my third year in Melbourne for the Chinese New Year festivals, and my third time to the Victoria Street Lunar New Year in Richmond, predominantly a Vietnamese suburb. The number of food stalls have increased in numbers from the previous two years – there were a few new ones – including a non-Asian stall selling American Buffalo Wings and the usual Vietnamese street foods like the grilled beef with betel leaves, vietnamese spring rolls, grilled calamari, grilled meat on skewers, pan fried radish cakes, fresh sugarcane juice and coconut juice.P1150033 P1140950

The highlight for me at the Victoria Street Lunar festival was the acrobatic lion dance performance and people watching. This year lion dance routine was different from last year and it didn’t disappoint the crowd, with a finale of exploding firecrackers strung from 3 very high poles.P1150017 P1150014 P1150012 P1140979

If there was a best traditional costume competition, I would have given that to the three Chinese deities “Fu Lu Shou“, signifying an abundance of good life –  fortune (Fu), prosperity (Lu) and longevity (Shou). These deities are mostly placed in the family living and dining room.

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Some of the women and men were wearing their traditional Vietnamese national costume, “Ao Dai“, pronounced as “au yai”. The material is usually make from silk fabric with bright colours.  P1140982P1140959

…our own version of “wolverine” sideburn.P1140990

This year is the “Year of the Horse“. The prediction is that it is going to be a good and better year than the Snake Year.

I am looking forward to the other festivals in the next 2 weekends.P1140960 P1140965 P1140969

Watch the lion dance video here.

Polish Festival

Last week, it was the Diwali Festival at Fed Square. This week, it was the Polish Festival. Melbourne is a true melting pot of a multi cultural society in Australia. There was an Irish Festival as well on the same day at the Immigration Museum, but it costs $10 entrance fee. The Polish festival was free in an open public space. I was really hoping to experience both cultural events, but could only fit one in as I had an unexpected stop on my way to Fed Square. There was a dragon boat race in front of the Wharf Hotel across from the South Wharf Promenade. I made my way down to the boat ramp and sat next to the very brown Yarra River and watched the race. This was the second time I have seen the dragon boat race on the Yarra water. It was nothing in comparison to the international dagon boat race in Penang, which is huge and very loud.

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20121118-181627.jpg After an hour watching the race, I decided I had enough and made my way to Fed Square. Along the way, my fingers could not resisit more photo opportunities. I never get bored walking along the river promenande and my eyes tend to see the same place each time but at a different angle.

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20121118-182541.jpg I hope he is still alive!

20121118-182648.jpg Underneath the historic Sandridge railway bridge which is now a pedestrian and cyclist bridge.

It was busy at Fed Square with a good number of stalls and lots of Polish speaking people. This was my first cultural experience to everything Polish, here at Fed Square in Melbourne. I was very excited.

20121118-183505.jpg I quickly made my way to all the food stalls. It was very crowded. I think the entire community came out to enjoy the beautiful Sunday weather, culture and atmosphere. I didn’t know what to expect of the Polish food. Almost stall after stall sells sausages, cakes and sweets like donuts, and then I saw dumplings! Dumplings? I said to myself quietly. That I have got to try. It comes either with potatoes and cheese or sauerkraut and meat – Krysia’s Pierogi. There was a long queue. I had to sample the food eventhough I was extremely full from an earlier lunch of Vietnamese’s beef lemongrass and chillies vermicelli noodle at a local Vietnamese cafe.

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20121118-184752.jpg $6 for four pieces of dumplings. That was cheap. It was umm nice, smooth and silky with the dumpling coated with probably some olive oil and the fillings were mildly flavoured. It was definitely different from the Chinese dumpling, which has more punch and flavour. I found a bench and sat next to a middle aged Polish woman and her husband. She was wondering if I was enjoying my dumplings and also suggested that I should try the Polish donuts which has sour plum jam inside.

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20121118-185840.jpg I had several bites before I tasted the sour plum jam. I love the donut which was made from yeast. It was soft and not too sweet. I have been having a crave for donut for awhile and each time I walk passed Krispy Kreme, I had to turn a blind eye and keep walking. I was very pleased that I had the Polish sour plum jam donut for only $3.

20121118-190354.jpg Back to the main stage for sone culture shows.

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Diwali – Festival of Lights

Happy Diwali to all the Indians across the world! This year, it falls on Tuesday 13th November 2012.

20121111-210909.jpg I do miss this festive season in Malaysia, which is widely celebrated by all Malaysians regardless of race and background, which is a significant Malaysian public holiday. It is known in Malaysia as “Deepavali”. Happy Deepavali to all Malaysian Indians.

In Australia with the largest Indian community residing in Melbourne, it is widely celebrated by the community at the Federation Square (Fed Square) last Saturday with live and colourful performances, food stalls and other cultural stands. There was a bit of Bollywood and hip hop with an Indian twist. It was a perfect day for the festival. Plenty of sunshine.

20121111-212335.jpg The crowd was building up very quickly. By late afternoon, most of the public space was filled up with Indian revellers watching the live performances and fireworks.

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20121111-213306.jpg He is one very tall, handsome man. I don’t think he is Indian though.

20121111-213445.jpg Strange that I have walked on Fed Square open space many times, but never knew there are pavers with words.

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20121111-214151.jpg I was soaking in the vitamin D for almost 3 hours until I had to take a bit of shelter inside the ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) building.

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20121111-214756.jpg Inside the ACMI building, there was a rare and collectible book market.

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That Little Thai Place

Yes, that little Thai place…., is one of my favourite Thai joint in Melbourne.   It is cosy and casual. There is nothing pretentious about this place. It is personable and being so small, the Chef is usually out at the front after finished cooking for the night. The place is little known as it is in an obscure quiet street, away from the main drag. The cafe is almost hidden by a big tree at the front. It is difficult to spot unless you are walking along the pavement, with a few outdoor tables and chairs underneath the tree.

So, where is this secret little Thai gem?

It is located in South Melbourne. If you have not guess it yet, I am talking about “Red Petite” owned by “Wing” the chef, and “Ing” the beautiful and charming Maitre d’.

“Wing and Ing” partners (I hope I have spell their nicknames correctly) or if I remember correctly, Ing jokingly told me to call them “Wining”  ie Win+ing. I guess that was how I remember both their nicknames. And rightly so, as Red Petite is a “winning team”. There is something about this place that I really like, which I can narrow down to the freshness and quality of the food, intimacy of the dining room and the kitchen, the cleanliness of the place, and the hospitality of Win-Ing. Having said that, Red Petite is a quiet place and having been opened for two years, I am really surprise that there isn’t a long queue outside waiting for a table.

The only reason I knew about Red Petite is not that I have read about it in a food blogs or food critics in The Age newspaper. But, it was a Saturday night not long after I moved to Melbourne (before my partner joined me) that I went to see a cabaret show at The Butterfly Club. I was bored staying in my little 48 sqm one bedroom rented apartment that I had to go out and enjoy a good evening.

That was when I discovered the Red Petite. The staff at The Butterfly Club highly recommended that I tried the place as I hunger for a light snack before the show. I hurried over to the little cafe. I didn’t remember seeing Ing at the time. But, an equally charming young Maitre d recommended that I tried the tapas size “Crying Tiger”, which was grilled marinated beef served with a northeastern Thai “E-Sarn” dipping sauce for $10. I did not have any expectation when I first went to Red Petite since I knew nothing about the place.

When the grilled beef came, I could tell that it was going to be good. The dipping sauce with a light sprinkle of chili powder garnished with spring onion in a side sauce bowl, next to a stack of grilled beef and slices of cucumber made a perfect mouth watering first bite. And, it was delicious with a nice balance of saltiness, sweetness and spicyness.

 I remember this dish well. However, at our most recent visit, which was last Saturday night, we took 2 of our friends visiting from Sydney to Red Petite. I recommended to them that they should try the “Crying Tiger”. It was the first dish that arrived being a tapas entree size. The dish looked exactly the same as the previous couple of times my partner and I had eaten there. It tasted the same with the same amount of saltiness, sweetness and spicyness from the marinated beef and the E-sarn dipping sauce. That is what I like most about this place – the consistency in the food, quality and presentation. The beef, however, was a bit tough and chewy. They were probably cooked a bit too long.

Our friends left it with me to order the dishes, and trusted that I knew what I was doing. The next dish that came was the prawn salad, “Pla Goong” for $16.

It was, once again, a very beautiful dish with the prawn nicely poached in coconut milk (I believed) served on top of a bed of fresh bean sprouts and iceberg cabbage cup and dressed in a creamy coconut sauce with chilies, mints and kaffir lime leaves. This dish was very good. The prawns were poached perfectly, firm and sweet. The creamy sauce was just right, not overly spicy or rich, with a nice fragrant and tangy flavour. The crunch of fresh bean sprout made this salad refreshing and light.

The third entree that I ordered was a Chicken Satay which comes in 4 skewers for $10.

The Thai style chicken satay is quite different from a Malaysian style chicken satay. Chicken breast is mostly used in the Thai version, whereas a Malaysian version will use the thigh meat, and in a Thai satay sauce it is mostly thick and creamy, whereas the Malaysian version adopted a spicier version with more chili paste in the sauce. Hence, a richer red colour, than a brownie creamy version of a Thai satay sauce. I have recently posted here on the best Malaysian chicken satay I have eaten at Mamak Melbourne.

The chicken satay at Red Petite was very good. The meat was chunky, sweet, tender and juicy. The sauce was nice, creamy, and sweet at the same time. The side roti was good for wiping up the remaining sauce. It was a wonderful dish.

Next up was the coconut rice, massaman beef curry and “sen mee moo yang” which is grilled pork with rice vermicelli and fresh salad.

The massaman beef curry was my partner’s all time favourite each time he eats at a Thai restaurant. I would have prefer either a Thai red or green curry. A massaman curry is a central Thai dish of Muslim origin. Each restaurant has their own version and interpretation. Win’s version is thick, rich and creamy with chunky beef, potatoes and carrots topped with dried shallots. The beef were tender and falls apart when pierced with a fork. The curry was accompanied well with the rich, fragrant coconut rice. Massaman beef for $15 and coconut rice was $4 a bowl.

“Sen Mee Moo Yang” is a rice vermicelli dish for $15. I have never had this type of noodle dish before in Thai cooking. It sounded interesting on the menu. Typically, I would have ordered either a “Pad Thai” or “Pad See Ewe”. I have tried Win’s Pad Thai on one of other visit, and Win’s Pad Thai was one of the best Pad Thai I had for a long time.

When Ing placed the Sen Mee Moo Yang on our table, I wasn’t sure what to think about the dish. I guess it was quite unexpected. So, I asked Ing how we should be eating this dish and whether I was meant to pour the bowl of sauce over the green salad and / or the noodle with pork.

Ing explained I should pour the sauce over the salad and noodle. She also explained that there was sweet chili at the bottom of the sauce. I was meant to stir the bowl with the mixture of sweet chili at the bottom. I later found out that this type of salad or seafood dressing is known as Nam-Jin, which was meant to be sweet, sour and spicy.

The sauce was mixed through. I then scooped a few spoonful of the dressing over the salad and noodle. I may have put too much dressing. It had an unusual flavour and taste which probably will take some time for me to take a liking towards this dish. The strong flavour of the Nam Jin dressing was garlicky and overly sweet. The sweet, sour and spicy flavour may suits some people, but the Nam Jin dressing was too strong for my liking.

Wing and Ing definitely has a win-ing formula at Red Petite. It only needs to be discovered by more people, not just those who lives around South Melbourne. This little cafe deserves to be noticed,  and a perfect place to eat before a show at the wonderful, eclectic cabaret club next door.

After our dinner, we headed over to The Butterfly Club for some cocktails and wine. There was a cabaret show on, but we were too late for the show. So we sat in the main lounge room cluttered with unusual figurines, dollhouse, pictures from all sort of walk life. It was dimmed and moody inside and the fireplace roaring away to keep the cold night warm and cosy.