Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bitter is Better

They say that we all need a little bitterness - especially if you are diabetic.

I had heard of Bitter Gourd, or Bitter Melon, from an Indian friend in Saudi Arabia. Now my doctor (oh, yes, did I mention that he is from India?) is suggesting that I try it.

They say that it's best raw, and on an empty stomach ... hmmm.

Well, I have a juicer - they seem to say that juicing it is an acceptable way to consume it, and at least then it can be gulped rather than chewed, and chewed, and chewed ...

This is what it looks like inside. This is a young one - the seeds are still white. Later they gradually go bright shiny red, and the outside goes violent yellow ... and more and more bitter! The seeds are even more bitter than the outside, and some people make powder of them to sprinkle on their food.

Again with the endless chewing, I want to just gulp.

I put an apple or a pear through the juicer with it, and as I gulp I only taste the sweet fruit - the bitterness is an aftertaste.

So that is my afternoon tea!

I'm not keen on doing it first thing in the morning because the juicer makes so much noise and I live in an apartment. (Ignoring the fact that one of our neighbours starts clattering her pans at 3am - I figure she is supplying food for a restaurant or something.)

So ... does it taste bitter? .... oooooohhh yes!

Is it doing me any good? I hope so! I have seen a very small change in my blood sugar results so far.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Better English on Kapas Island

The good people in the Social Sciences department at our Institute had been planning an island retreat to improve their spoken English, and when we showed up they had the idea to invite us as facilitators and well, why not?

But then the rain set in ... and it was put off because the boat is not very big and the sea was too rough etc. So this weekend they decided to try again ... and on the day we were due to go it started to rain and rain and rain ...

We half expected another cancellation, but the trip went ahead.

The boat trip across was quite rough and bouncy, with waves crashing into the cracked perspex window in the prow, water trickling down onto our baggage - but life jackets were available for the faint at heart.

Kapas Island Resort

The resort has not been maintained at the four star standard it once was, but that does not detract from the natural beauty of the place.

The dining room / reception area is one of those delightful open verandah-type places, with ceiling fans and big wooden tables.

With the weather being a bit weird this year, there were only one or two tourists other than our group, and a big poster advertised our course.

Finding afternoon tea already laid out as we arrived, the whole group quickly settled in and chowed down. Of course, the food was all local style - something I find a little hard to deal with especially as almost everything is heavily laced with chili.

For this afternoon tea, there were two options, one of which was something hot and spicy, and I chose the other dish: In my little bowl, here, I have something made from peas or beans, very sweet, which they told me should be eaten with bread. I managed a little, and a cup of hot black coffee helped wash it all down!

This is Yusoff, the department head and driving force behind the whole event, who brought his wife along for the workshop. They are eating something like prawn crackers, quite greasy and fishy-tasting.

Accommodation was in chalets spread along a path, with verandahs looking out over a grassy area.

Inside was basic, but air conditioned and spacious - with a king bed and a single, a tiny TV with rabbit-ears antenna, and a tiny (empty) fridge.

The bathroom had once had luxuries such as hot water and probably even a shower rose.

We dumped our bags, changed into acceptable swimming gear (long shorts and t-shirt), and plunged into the ocean.

Ohhhhh WOW!! This is exactly the right temperature for swimming water! Just a hint of cold (now it's just not nice when it's body temperature or more, is it!), just right for a refreshing dip.

And then, after that, it didn't seem to matter that we had to stand under a 'cold' (well, hardly!) rose-less shower to get rid of the salt.

The resort also boasts quite a nice little swimming pool, but we never got around to trying it with the ocean being so pleasurable (and, yes, it is raining - again - in this photo, not that it matters because the rain isn't cold ...)


Of course we were there to work, and they were there to study. A rigorous series of 8 2-hour sessions had been planned for us to present over the 2-3 days.

This is the meeting place - upstairs where there is an airconditioned, carpeted, windowless room designed for conferences etc.

Everyone dutifully traipsed upstairs, slipped off their shoes, and looked to us expectantly.

On the first evening we had planned some ice-breaking activities - even though these people claimed they all knew each other really well - and in no time at all everyone was laughing uproarously and learning English despite themselves.

The next morning the serious work began.

The subject was stress - something that is particulary tricky for Malays. But we handed out lacky bands ...

and soon everyone was clapping and stretching out stress patterns - with continuing glee and some hilarity.

The lesson was reinforced with some good old Bingo! games, with everyone having a turn at being the 'caller' and practising their new skills while others marked their Bingo cards with sunflower seeds.

Peter's sessions were about giving presentations, and at the end they each had to present a short talk to the group on a subject Peter had selected for them.

Again there was a great deal of laughter and fun mixed in with the learning and practising of skills.

A snorkling outing had been promised, and as the beach in front of the resort boasts nothing but sand and dead coral we were to be taken by boat to a neighbouring island, Gem Island, which still has a coral reef.

Unfortunately the rain closed in and the boat was stuck on the mainland - we only got to see Gem from our boat on the way home the last day.

But we all went snorkling near the jetty where we had first arrived. Everyone (else) donned life jackets (I find I can just lie there and float in salt water, nothing can make me sink! :) ) and snorkels, and one of the resort workers dumped a whole lot of bread pieces into the water, enticing the fish - mostly like large angel fish - to swim around a bit for our enjoyment.

The trees along the beach are tropical almonds - just like we had on Murray Island - and the warm air and balmy breezes made us feel very nostalgic for our home of the 80s.

By the time we had to leave, the weather was clear and bright.

The boat trip back to the mainland was a breeze, calm seas and an easy ride.

Tomorrow we all head back to work at the Institute and this will seem like a dream, except that we will bump into new friends as we walk around at work.

Friday, April 1, 2011

More floods and visas

Having escaped the Queensland floods just in time, we find that the weather here has been weird and crazy.

The monsoon finished and left ...

and then came back.

No longer ocean and island views from our window. The tourism business in the islands is suffering because normally this is their big time for crowds to come and pay to go snorkelling.

The people in the little villages all around are used to rain - but not this time of the year. The traditional little wooden houses are always built up on stumps. Even so, apparently this situation hasn't arisen for some 22 years, and some people have had to be evacuated.

The longest rain

It has been raining heavily - tropical storms with pounding rain that makes it hard to hold a conversation - off and on for several weeks. And then the other night it just didn't let up all night. In the morning we got into our little (rented) Proton Saga and headed off to work in the dark and the pouring rain. It was different from usual - there were no motorbikes. And the windscreen wipers at their pathetic fastest barely managed to make a clear spot to see through. Quite a few times on the way the road was under water, everyone ploughing through it and throwing up great spouts of water. Occasionally someone on the other side of the road would chuck a wave right over the car, creating a moment of total loss of vision.

We got to work safely.

And went to park where we usually do. Ok, so there was a bit of water over the road! We sat in the car wondering how to climb out without removing shoes etc ... Other cars were driving along the driveway behind us, and their waves started bumping up under our car. Slowly the car started to shift sideways ...

So we moved away and headed up to the other end of the campus looking for some higher ground - although then we would have to wade back to our office. At one point it felt like we drove over something crunchy, but impossible to tell under the water. But later when we went to get back into our car we found we had a flat tyre - the tyre had started to come right off the rim. We found a couple of local boys who were glad of a few ringgit ($) to change our wheel despite the rain, and took the broken wheel to a garage. When they removed the tyre from the rim, gallons of water splooshed out!

Visa hassles

Our work visas are being "worked on", but we are very close to the end of our 'social visa', and don't want to risk being in the country illegally. The solution is usually a 'border run'.

Back up to Kota Bharu and then to the Thai border, a walk across the bridge into Thailand, a stamp in the passport, and then back across. It's what many people do. We thought it might even make an interesting little adventure for us and Lloyd.

But then there is the rain.

We've been hearing about drownings and mudslides in southern Thailand, and the river that marks the border is in flood ...

We decided we would just have to try, and we took the day off from work especially. It rained again most of the night, and in the morning it was still drizzling and not looking hopeful.

But then ...

I remembered: there is a building that we drive past every day, and can see clearly from our building -

- the big one in the middle - which has a funny name: Wisma Persekutuan. Being a curious fellow I looked up the 'p' word and found that it means 'immigration'.

So we grabbed our umbrellas and marched over there, and applied for visa extensions. It cost us no more than the petrol to Thailand and back (the visa in Thailand is free), and it only took a couple of hours.

Why didn't we just do that in the first place? - no one told us you could.