Friday, August 9, 2013

Read A Book!

Well, I'm off for a week in the sun and surf of Samui. Read a book!
  • The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz - Izzy Spellman has been a private investigator since age 14, working in her family's detective agency; a good detective agency, one gathers from the story, but extremely disfunctional family. The mom and dad split their time between working cases and following Izzy around. Older brother David was a model of perfection growing up, and is now a high-price corporate lawyer, who happens to be dating Izzy's best friend behind her back. Uncle Ray has survived cancer gotten from a lifetime of clean living and has decided to live it up, and so part of Izzy's work is trying locate him after he disappears on one of his periodic, debauched "lost weekends". And fourteen-year-old sister Rae has a detecting compulsion that leads her sneak out at night and shadow random people. Somewhere in there, Izzy is working a cold case about the disappearance of a teenager from camping trip twenty years ago.
  • The Secret of the Stones by Ernest Dempsey - I don't mind a story that stretches credulity, but this one exceeds the snapping point by quite a margin. On the other hand, it's set almost entirely in Georgia, so I liked the "local" flavor. An artifact has been found which may unlock the secret treasure of the Cherokee Indians and their link to the ancient Egyptians. Our hero is in a race to solve the mystery in time to save his archaeologist friend who's been kidnapped by minions of "The Prophet. To do so, he must decipher long-misunderstood clues at locations like Etowah Indian Mounds (I took eighth graders there for years) and Rock Eagle (4H camp locale). Still, it's just too unbelievable for me.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir - Imagine being left for dead by your team when exploring a remote location: little food and water, few supplies, no communication. Now imagine that you're on Mars, and the next manned mission is years away. Fortunately, you're a botanist and a mechanical engineer. What are your priorities, what are your longer-term goals? Read how astronaut Mark Watney answers those questions in this well-researched page-turner, reminiscent of Ray Bradbury--it hasn't got Bradbury's lyrical qualities, but it makes up for it with technical exactitude and creative problem-solving.
  • Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre - The story of Eddie Chapman has all the earmarks of a Hollywood tall tale--in fact, there have been a few fictionalizations of his life, but none as good as the real thing. Chapman, a career criminal in his late twenties, volunteered to work for the German Abwehr intelligence agency in order to get out of a Jersey prison. When he made his way to England to sabotage an airplane factory, he turned himself in to MI5 and became the most effective British double agent of the War. In his four journeys across the channel, he bedded women, charmed men, and did untold damage to the Axis war effort in Europe. Bravo to him, and to this well-told, well-researched book about him.
  • Hidden Genius: Frank Mann, the Black Engineer Behind Howard Hughes by HT Bryer - Thanks to my friend Chris for this tip (and many others), or I would never have heard of this remarkable guy. Even serious engineering types have never heard of Frank Mann, even though he designed cars for the Big Three, solved mechanical engineering problems for Howard Hughes, became an honorary member of "Doolittle's Raiders", piloted airplanes for Southwest Airways, created the coupling system for NASA that attached the Shuttle to the 747, and even sat aboard the famous 'Spruce Goose' in its only flight. He was also a singer, dancer, and MC at Huston's Eldorado Club, and hung out with movie stars like Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart and John Barrymore. Big life--slim book, only 109 pages. The book came about because the author's brother Paul befriended Mann in the eighties, got to know him and his remarkable story, was given the "rights" by Frank to his life story, but backed out of a Hollywood miniseries when he learned they planned to sensationalize it with his penchant for the ladies and the celebrity scene. It is based almost completely on Frank's conversations with Paul, his supply of memorabilia, and interviews with people still around from his days at the rather secretive Hughes Corporation. Fascinating, and a great role model no matter what your skin color.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Malaysia, Kota Kinabalu: Food & Drink

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The most popular "local" brew in Kota Kinabalu is Skol, manufactured under auspices of Carlsberg, and created by a consortium of brewers as a global mega-brand in the 1960s, so Wikipedia tells me. My hang-out downtown, sharing roof-space with the Rainforest Lodge, sold it in an ice bucket at 3 for 13 RM, or USD 1.50, with tax, during "happy hour", which being from 11 AM to 9 PM was more like "happy day."

The Sugarbun Cafe next door offered one of Malaysia's specialties, the "claypot" meal, a stew that could range from bland to fairly spicy. Here's the chicken one:

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BBs Cafe and Beer Garden also ran a teppan grill at night, offering good grub at good prices, like this salmon for 20 RM:

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I picked up these snacks somewhere and thought to take a picture before digging in. The dried red plums are the original sour candy, albeit with a pip inside.

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Other typical fare at the dozens of coffeehouse/cafe establishments that fill out the city center area include this breakfast of a pork-filled bun, a pastry and a great cup of strong yet sweetened coffee, for 4.40 RM:

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I knew it was Ramadan when I went to Malaysia, and I knew it was a majority Muslim country (though the constitution ensures religious freedom), and I somehow worried a bit that it would complicate my meal plans a bit. Well, restaurants weren't closed, beer was readily available, and after sundown the Ramadan food markets were in full flow. I even read in the newspaper surprising statistics about the number of people admitted to hospital with severe gastric distress after gorging themselves.

One night, I made my way toward the waterfront restaurant area, but was instead diverted by the Ramadan food tent area. I set out for some red snapper (dedicated readers will know this already), and I was not disappointed. I had it grilled, added a trio of enormous shrimp, and a tasty repast for about 40 RM. On the downside, no alcohol.

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Here are a few other shots of the tent city:

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Needless to say, I went back for more the next night.

I mentioned that this was a night-time function, but there was, right next to my hotel, a daytime edition, rather smaller, but also quite delicious. It seemed to run from 2 to 5 or so. I first stopped by for an ice-cold beverage--they had OJ, mango juice, avocado juice (I like avocados, but yuck!) tembikai juice, lobak juice and lo han kuo, among others. I have no idea what any of those are, but I gambled on the lo han kuo and found it quite nice--vaguely nutty but refreshing.

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Many of the stalls had signage with names and prices, but they didn't really help much (though nasi goreng means 'fried rice' in Indonesian):

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However, English is quite common in Kota Kinabalu, though like the rest of the country, Malaysian is the official language, and people were always kind and helpful. And they sure can cook!

This concludes my series of posts on my visit to Malaysia. It's been slow coming together because I've been quite busy between camp, my public speaking class and just farting around. I leave Friday for a week on Koh Samui, but don't expect much in the way of photos etc from that trip--been, there, done that, to the extend I think I won't take the Nikon, but just settle for pics from the iPhone camera. Before I go, I do expect to update the Book Report. Until then, see you in the funny papers!