Thing 1: Biting into Black Pudding

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This post is part of my #40thingsat40 project to celebrate the fact that I turn 40 this year

My brother loves black pudding and for many years he’s tried to persuade me to give it a try. The first time he asked me to try it, I poked at it and said “Why’s it black?” To my utter disgust, he answered “Blood, mainly.” Since then, every time he tried to get me to try a bite, I’d pull a face and respond “Ugh, no.”

On December 9th 2016, before heading into Kew Gardens, my mother and I decided to grab a breakfast at Tap on the Line, a pub located right at the Kew Gardens Station of the London Underground. It was one of the prettiest-looking pubs I’ve ever seen. It had a domed glass roof and extensive outdoor seating. As it’s right on the train platform, from inside the pub, you could see trains come and go, passengers embarking and disembarking. I could sit there the entire day, sipping tea.

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A lovely place to sit outside in the summer with a pint

We perused the simple breakfast menu and I immediately knew what I wanted to get –

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The breakfast menu

Full English, pork sausage, Mrs. Owton’s bacon, Hampshire black pudding, beans, tomato & mushroom, free range eggs to your liking, toast.

I was famished and couldn’t wait to try my first bite of black pudding. “Why do you suddenly want to try black pudding?” My mum questioned as she’s perfectly aware that for years, I’ve resisted. “Well, at least once I try it, if I still think it’s ugh, at least my future protests will be an informed one.” To my ears, that sounded like a perfectly logical and reasonable reason. My taste buds were getting ready to be ugh.

My breakfast came and without wasting another minute, attacked the black pudding. I somehow thought that it would be crumbled but instead it was served sliced, like two hockey pucks. I broke off a little piece and popped the black pudding made mostly with blood into my mouth.

It was DELICIOUS! 

Like sausage, slightly game-y and the edges of the black pudding, which were toasted (I think), tasted crisp. Yum!

So, I tried black pudding – yay me! – and I definitely will again!

(I polished the entire plate)

Christmas Trees, Eels and Batfishes

Snorkeling at Mak Cantik (Beautiful Mother), a dive site off Redang Island, was an unforgettable experience. Not only because of the marine life I encountered there but also because of the number of other snorkelers who were there. There was a carpet of people, literally! Snorkeling near the boat that brought us from the hotel to the site, I had repeat `excuse me, excuse me‘ and tried my best not to snorkel into other people’s feet lest I get a kicked in the face! I pitied the fishes, they must’ve been terrified to see so many bodies in their territory! We did manage to get some peace and quiet from the other snorkelers later though and went further away from the boat so that we could actually have the opportunity to see some fishes instead of other people’s hands and feet.

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A not-so festive looking Christmas Tree worm (The Amusing Planet)

It was at Mak Cantik where I saw my first Christmas Tree worm. I was utterly fascinated with them as I disturbed the water above them and they retracted back into themselves. And if you waited a few seconds, the bristles would emerge from the tubes into which they retracted and they’d fan themselves out. Truly amazing! I also saw many Giant Clams, which I at first thought was a kind of coral because its shell was so crusted, it truly looked like the hard coral that it was sometimes attached to.

Unfortunately while we were gleefully bobbing up and down in the water, we noticed that there were many tiny, golfball-sized transparent thingies (jellyfish???) around us and some of us felt stings which hurt for a little while. When I was stung, I searched my arm for any swelling but when I saw none, I thought it best not to emerge from the water and shout, `Jellyfish! Jellyfish!’ causing a mass panic of hand and feet when I truly didn’t know if they were indeed jellyfish.

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“What are you doing in my backyard???” asked the Giant Moray Eel (Ocean Treasures Memorial Library)

Later that afternoon, we were brought to the Marine Park located at Pulau Pinang (a tiny island off Pulau Redang proper). The park ranger told us that an 8.5 foot Giant Moray Eel was in resident. I remember pretending to be excited but secretly, I hoped it was taking its afternoon nap. After 10 minutes in the water, we noticed something large undulating a few feet beneath us. I looked down and my breath caught in my throat. Apparently, the eel was NOT taking a nap, as I’d hoped. It was elegantly drifting in and around the corals, going into any nook and cranny. Witnessing the eel swimming casually was amazing even though I was scared out of my freaking mind. Generally, eels aren’t that active preferring to anchor the rear portion of their bodies in a crevice and stay hidden during the day. I had a sneaking suspicion though that all the marine life at the Marine Park were there to `work’ – entertaining the tourists, and when the park closed down at night, they would clock out and go to their real homes in a reef far, far away.

Before we returned to our resort, we managed to squeeze in a final 45 minutes of snorkeling at another site, Tanjung Tengah (Middle Cape/ Point). This was where I saw my first Titan Triggerfish, a fish that I’ve been told to stay away from at all costs. When I caught sight of it, I started swimming sloooowly away. Well, actually there were two of us swimming sloooowly away, trying not to make eye-contact with it while also trying not to bump into the corals in our semi-haste to escape. Another colleague though was following it from a distance and we wanted to tell her to move away, but what the hey, we were cowards and we wanted to save ourselves. In the end, nothing alarming happened though which made me realise that the Triggerfish was probably a sweetheart with a bad rep.

Nearing the end, I beheld a mesmerising sight – a school of batfish suspended above a coral outcrop. I was in awe and was so excited that I tried to clap my hands but because I was underwater, it was a slow effort. I watched them in near-suspended animation, flexing their tiny fins a little whenever there was a slight current change. They projected a sense of peace which made me feel at peace too. It was a good day.

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A school of batfish sans capes or batmobiles (Tropical Marine Biodiversity

Daily Prompt: Jump

In response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Jump

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It’s Day 6 of our New Zealand trip and we’re in Lake Taupo (toe-paw) which is approximately one and a half hours drive from Rotorua. Well, closer to two hours since the maximum speed limit in New Zealand seems to be 100 km/hr and every time I went up to 110 km/hr, Emily (our GPS) started to ping wildly.

The sign entering the Lake Taupo area proudly proclaimed it to be the ‘Rainbow Trout Capital of the Universe’. Reading the travel brochures, I also learnt that Lake Taupo is actually the crater of an ancient volcano. Though that was an interesting tit-bit, the primary reason for my being in Taupo was because it’s the home of Taupo Bungy.

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One of the Top 10 insanest things I’ve ever done

Little Sis told me, “If you’re going to New Zealand, you have to go bungy jumping, or else what’s the point? It’s where bungy was born!!” How do I argue with that? And so that’s how I found myself standing on a weighing scale getting my weight checked before I voluntarily threw myself off a wooden platform 47 metres above the gushing river below.

“Ok, your weight is 48 kg. You’re good to go,” said the guy behind the counter, his eyes hidden behind matrix-esque sunnies.

“48? Oh, I thought I was 46 kg, must be the mussels,” I said more to myself than to matrix-sunnies guy.

He slipped the receipt into a tag with a lanyard and told me to hang it around my neck, took my left hand and wrote in bold with a flat-tipped marker (not permanent, I later sighed in relief), “48”. Ugh, my weight, for all the world to see. The world being everyone at the bungy centre.

“Erm, so what do I do now?” I asked when actually, what I really wanted was for someone to take my hand and lead me to where I was supposed to go to next. After all, I was on the verge (pun intended) of doing something that my life insurance agent should never be told about as I was pretty sure that if she did, my monthly premium would go up exponentially.

“Head over to the cantilevered bridge over there and queue up and wait for your turn,” he explained slowly in case this Asian person could not understand English. “Have a good jump!” he added as an afterthought.

GULP.

And so, I walked over and waited my turn. In front of me was a Japanese lady. She looked as zen as can be, standing there admiring the view so I thought why not ask her, “Is this your 1st time?”

“No, it’s my 14th.”

“Wow, so, what advice do you have for me? It’s my first time.”

“Just relax, at first you’ll be nervous. I’m always nervous before I jump. But after you jump, no problem!” She assured me.

“Okay…thanks. No problem.” My nerves went into overdrive.

I saw the bungy guys call her when it was her turn and as she sat down on the bench, they strapped the cable around her feet, giving her instructions which I was attempting my best to listen to even though I knew they’ll be giving me the same instructions later. I suppose if I heard it twice, the information would be burned into my brain. When she stood on the ledge, I was extremely nervous (on her behalf) and cringed a little when the bungy master counted down and then I heard her scream as she jumped. Yikes.

I laid my hand on my heart and sure enough, it was beating quadruple-time, as if I’d run full speed for 15 mins around the park in front of my house. Then, it was my turn.

I sat down and as the bungy master strapped the cable on, she asked, “How are you today?” No point in trying to be suave so I replied, “Super-nervous!” And after that she gave me a litany of instructions that’s a blur to me now and next I knew…

…I was at the edge of the platform looking down at the Waikato River.

Yikes! I’m going to go all that way??? It felt like I was going to hyper-ventilate. My ears were beginning to buzz and through the buzzing spimd, I heard the bungy master remind me to put my hands out and after she counted to three, I should lean forward and let gravity do the rest. At that moment, I thought gravity was evil.

I heard her start the countdown – one, two, three… and like an automaton (I’m pretty sure it was just my body responding automatically as my brain had temporarily shut down to protect me from this crazy thing I was nano-seconds away from), my body obediently had its hands out and I leant forward and even at the nano-nano-second before my feet left the platform to meet the air, the motto I read at the Taupo Bungy hut flashed through my mind – Why live on the edge, when you can jump off it? Stupid motto, was what I thought as well.

With that thought, my entire body already in the air, I opened my mouth and screamed and flew…and hoped that the bungy guys got the cable measurement correct.

#BEDM Day 17: The Aerial Palace

For Day 17 of #BEDM, I’ve chosen to use the topic proposed here – Wanderlust/ Travel

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I’ve always wanted to travel solo. Although I did have the opportunities when it was work-related, travelling solo for pleasure just never worked out. Until 2014.

For my birthday that year, I traveled to Siem Reap with the main purpose of exploring the temples at Angkor. I’d arrived the day before my birthday to settle in to the lovely hotel a friend found for me online and to gauge my surroundings.

The day of my birthday, I was up at 630 as the tour guide I’d booked would meet me at my hotel at 7am to start the tour. It was a warm day. Tuk tuk was the obvious mode of transportation as these versatile motor rickshaw type vehicles could weave in and out of traffic much too easily. I thought we were early but there were already busloads of tourists at the entrance to the Angkor temple complex.

The tour I booked included the usual sites that we’ve all seen on television, movies or read about in books or magazines – Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom, Angkor Wat and all the other awesome temples.

The highlight of my excursion though was when the guide brought me to Phimeanakas, a temple which is located inside the walled enclosure of the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom. It was not the largest of the temples that I’d seen and was one of the most run down but somehow, I was drawn to it. The guide told me that according to legend, the kings of the time visited the temple every night to sleep with a woman who’s actually a Naga (serpent, snake, etc…). If the Naga did not show up, this meant that the kings days were numbered aka not good.

I remember walking up the crumbling steps to the top, using my hands and knees and when I arrived, I caught the smell of incense. I was alone at the temple and my heart started beating quicker. I peered around a fallen column and saw that there was incense being burnt by an old lady who greeted tourists and handed out blessed yellow strings to be tied around one’s wrists, in exchange for a small donation. Phew, no Naga.

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Phimeanakas (The Aerial Palace)

It was truly special to be able to spend my birthday amongst such historical ruins. Like the yellow string around my left wrist, I felt blessed.

#BEDM Day 11: The ROM

For Day 11 of #BEDM, I’ve chosen to use the topic proposed here – Museums. 

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I love museums. I always have.  Walking into a museum always takes my breath away and there’re times when I wished I could hop, skip and jump along the corridors of a museum because the exhibits bring me such joy. If you love me, you’d bring me to a museum, and I’d forever be yours.

When I lived in Toronto, one of the places I’d frequent was the Royal Ontario Museum or the ROM. The first time I went to the ROM, I spent 4 hours roaming it’s halls and I’d only covered less than half the exhibits!  I’d stand in front of each plaque/ signage, and read the information and look at the display, making sure I didn’t miss anything.

I’d revisit the ROM every other week. If I was in the area but without enough time to look at the exhibits, I’d hang out in the museum shop. (I love museum shops too!)

One year, for Halloween, the ROM screened the classic horror movie, Dracula (1931). Accompanying the screening of the movie was an orchestra that would play the “soundtrack” of the movie. I had to sit on my hands or else I’d clap throughout the movie, I had such a wonderful time!

The ROM has undergone a facelift. When I went, it looked like this:

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Now, the ROM looks like this:

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Photo courtesy of http://www.bloor-yorkville.com

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the former 🙂

#BEDM Day 9 (Europe): I Heart Pickled Herrings

Update: After more sleuthing in the world wide web, I came across this blog – Found Love Now What – that has her suggested daily topics for #BEDM from 2015, which I find quite appealing and may possibly borrow for the purpose of this challenge 🙂

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Following a month of blogging (nearly) every day in April for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I wanted to continue the momentum and decided to do the Blog Every Day in May Challenge. I’d attempted this challenge in 2013 but didn’t complete, probably due to blogging fatigue 🙂 This year is my second attempt and I’m starting at Day 9 although if I’m really determined, I may go back and post for the days I missed, which means that for the most part, I’ll follow the proposed topics for each of the days in the challenge.  

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In October 2015, I visited Amsterdam for the first time and out of so many things that I was looking forward to for my trip, one of the top things (the #1 thing on my list was seeing windmills) was trying pickled herring.

Immediately after landing at Schiphol airport, my hunt began.

I searched for the kiosks that sold pickled herring which were supposed to be scattered amongst the canal area only to find one which had yet to open for the day. Refusing to be denied my pickled herring, I resorted to buying pickled herring from Albert Heijn, the supermarket chain ubiquitous in Amsterdam and devoured the entire tray of perhaps 10 herrings with a side of raw onions. My first impression? Oh God, I could eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday! Who cared about fishy-onion breath!

Then, while at the famous Albert Cuyp Market, I found this place – Volendammer Vishandel:

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Photo credit: http://www.myhiddengems.co.uk

where I ordered and devoured this – pickled herring AND fried oysters. I could’ve ordered 10 more of these but I had the whole market to eat through 🙂

Smoked herring

Pickled herring, I heart you.