A dilemma …

What do you do when you’re out for the evening and you bump into a chap from work and he’s clearly wearing eyeliner and lipstick?

… Go and watch him in his panto, of course!

It was my first experience of expat amateur dramatics and there were the usual cheesy jokes, songs and topical references along the way, as Dorothy from KL – wearing her ruby flippers –

tried to make her way to the wonderful land of Singapore.

At one point she found her way barred by two very camp trees –

who also told jokes whilst flaunting their codpieces

… and I’m predicting a global shortage of purple Lycra once these pictures go viral.

The show was held in the theatre of the British School, and was easily the most impressive school theatre I’ve ever been in.  It was a very un-cosmopolitan audience and an American friend remarked that she’d never before seen so many British people all together in the same place … she’s obviously never been to England, as we tend to specialise in that sort of crowd.

We even managed a groupie fan pic at the end.

It was the most English evening I’ve spent since I held a Wimbledon, Ascot, Henley Pimm’s evening in July, and at one point I found myself explaining the concept of panto to someone from KL who’d never been to one before – leading man is actually a woman, older woman is actually a man, people on stage are unable to spot a wicked witch right behind them, audience contradicting the actors loudly and repeatedly etc etc.

I wasn’t surprised when her eyebrows went up and up and up – it really is a bizarre form of entertainment, and if you don’t understand the rules, you’re liable to think it’s just anarchy with fancy lighting and plush seats.

Maybe that’s why we’ve never had an actual revolution in Britain – we prefer our anarchy in comfortable surroundings for a couple of hours at a time, and then we can go home for a nice cup of tea.

 

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On a foodie tour of Malacca

On a trip to Malacca last week I rekindled my love affair with the Peranakan culture.  The Peranakans were also known as the Straits Chinese, and were the first wave of Chinese immigrants from the 14th Century onwards; wealthy merchants who traded in Malacca and intermarried with the local Malays.

They had their own culture, traditions and food, and cendol was their dessert of choice, so in the interests of objective research, I felt compelled to try it twice.

The cendol maker begins by putting a huge block of ice into a machine and shaving off a large bowlful –

Then the sous-chef gets to work –

pouring, swirling and dribbling, just like the best mixologist –

until you get to the finished dish –

It is the most ambrosial mixture of pillow-soft, shaved ice topped with coconut milk and raw palm sugar, and it’s just like eating a billowy, sweet cloud of snow.  There’s a side serving of green jelly worms and some red beans hidden under the ice for a bit of texture and colour, and the whole thing costs just over £1.  Budget friendly bliss – what more could you want?

Peranakan women didn’t go to school; in fact they weren’t allowed to leave the house at all.  They spent their childhood learning to cook and sew, until they were considered competent and married off at the age of 14 or so.  Consequently there are a lot of very complicated recipes in their repertoire, as they had nothing else to do all day except devise fiendishly difficult dishes to impress their menfolk.

One such dish is called ‘ayam buah keluak’ and is so difficult to make that it’s practically impossible to find a restaurant that serves it – but we found one –

so we went in to try it.

The keluak nuts contain cyanide, so in order to make them edible they have to be buried in the ground for 40 days and then soaked in water for ten days.  Who on earth invented this bizarre recipe, I wondered, and was old-time Malacca full of squirrel-like women dashing out into the garden to bury their nuts every autumn?

The nuts are then cooked with chicken and a mixture of spices, to make a fragrant stew

You need a special thin knife to scrape out the softened centre of the nuts, which is pulpy and black and tasted rather musty to me, although afficionados say that it tastes like truffles

It looks like caviar, but doesn’t taste like it.

I’m glad I’ve tried keluak, but I don’t think I’ll be dashing to try it again – unlike cendol, which I will be devouring on a regular basis whenever I can find a cendol supplier.  I’ve been wondering about making my own at home, as my fridge has an ice maker, but I’m not sure whether you can make shaved ice with a Lady Shave – more research needed here, I feel.

 

 

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Little Bo-Peep and her helicopter sheep

I’m still getting to grips with Malaysian education.  This week a parent asked me to look at his son’s exam paper, to see why he hadn’t scored particularly highly.  The exam paper contained several language errors – but the boy already knew that if he didn’t repeat the error in his answer, he’d lose marks, so that wasn’t a problem –

And then there was an interesting choice of text for the comprehension passage –

Hardly the most useful language for the 21st Century:

Me: ‘Why haven’t your parents come to pick you up?’

Pupil: ‘Still they all are fleeting, Miss Louise.’

Me: ‘And what are your goals for this year?’

Pupil: ‘I’m determined for to pass my exams.’

Me: ‘Who’s that small man beside you wearing a mask?’

Pupil: ‘He’s my little crook.’

etc etc.

Not only that, but the poor child had answered the question correctly, then the teacher had made him change it and turn it into a complete nonsense.

As far as I’m aware, no sheep has ever managed to move by tail power, no matter how hard they wag them.

My second educational experience this week was the Discovery of the Body Exhibition in Malacca.

It is designed, the advertising blurb tells us, to teach us ALL about the human body.

But once we got inside, we realised that they would not be teaching us about every single part of the human body; some parts were most definitely off-limits –

Note the scarf – carefully chosen to co-ordinate with the decor.

And the modern equivalent of a figleaf –

or two –

Queen Victoria would have thoroughly approved.

Then last month, there was the story about a teacher who was conducting inappropriate relationships …

… in the student affairs office.

Best rename the room to avoid confusion, I thought.

 

 

 

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Ahead of the curve … yet again

I see in the UK press that Nigella is predicting that the next hip ingredient – essential for every foodie refrigerator and food-related hipster conversation – will be pandan.

Well – sorry, Nigella, but I’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt to prove it … or the photos, at least.

Here is Mr Toad relaxing at home in the shade of our very own pandan plant –

And here is the onde-onde that I made on my cookery course earlier this year

They are made from pandan flavoured paste, filled with palm sugar and rolled in coconut … yum!

This is the tour leader on a market tour, extolling the virtues of pandan –

– apparently pandan can lower blood pressure, eliminate dandruff, heal sunburn, repel mosquitoes, reduce stress, inhibit cancer and even cure impotence … so, as they say, what’s not to like?

Apparently when it comes to a new food trend, it’s essential to be able to say that you liked it first.  So just remember that you heard it here first, folks.

Meanwhile, my salted egg fetish continues, and I’m hoping that Nigella will pick up on that next, so I’ll be able to indulge when I return to the UK.

Recently I’ve tried a salted egg roll –

which is actually a straight croissant (an oxymoron, if ever I heard one) rolled around a salted egg filling, and topped with even more salted egg.  I managed to stop devouring it just long enough to take a picture.

The local bakery needs this much salted egg every day

and to make sure that you don’t miss out, you need to check the board to see when the next batch of deliciousness will be ready –

And another equally delicious discovery –

salted egg sweet potato fries … heaven in a takeaway box.

 

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