Sunday, January 23, 2011

Welcome to the Jungle

I’ll post a link to the leech video Jazmine took once she puts it on YouTube – nasty little buggers, just one gets a taste of you and then they all can smell a feast. Got a fat one in my sock, and every five minutes after that I would find a few more sucking at the blood-soaked fabric.

Things we saw in Taman Negara: ants marching in highways unfollowably long, bats, snakes, monkeys, a yellow-tailed chicken-like bird, and an abandoned tourist resort. There, done with that.

The things I found most interesting in Taman Negara: the riverboat restaurants. The only restaurants in Kuala Tahan float at the juncture of the Tembeling and Jelai rivers, conveniently located just across from the entrance to the park. In addition to their food services, all the restaurants support a population of river taxi drivers sitting around and smoking cigarettes who will ferry you across the river for one ringgit.

The first night we got in, we ate at a cheap (about average for Bhutanese standards, Malaysia’s an upscale place) restaurant with a bumbling waiter and a “crazy” clock which merely showed an odd time. I ordered Tom Yam soup (“Yes, it’s Malaysian” said our nice but misinformed waiter (It’s Thai)) and Jazmine ordered something she couldn’t remember the name of. I can’t speak for the quality of her soup, but mine was deliciously Tom-Yammy (a flavor I lack the culinary chops to describe) and was chock-full of chunky vegetables and chicken and was the first meal in Malaysia I feel like I couldn’t have gotten in New York or India. Most of the food in Kuala Lumpur was street Chinese food (might have had something to do with the fact that we were staying in Chinatown) and our breakfasts, though authentically Malaysian, were all roti somethings – roti canai, roti telur, etc. – varieties of of spun flatbread with various sauces and curries, and never anything I felt was qualitatively different from the roti you’d get in India.

So we came back the next morning and, not remembering exactly where our previous restaurant was, went into another joint. My meal was unmemorable enough that I just don’t remember it. We boated off to the park, spent two days hiking and sleeping in a house on concrete stilts, listening to jungle as the noises changed at various times of day. Once we returned we were ferried across to “Family Restaurant.” Figuring we'd give it a shot, I ordered Kadung fried rice. This was a mistake, as it turned out to be bleh fried rice at an inflated price. We spent a bit trying to figure out exactly where our original restaurant was, only to conclude definitively that it was not where we had left it: turns out, the restaurants aren’t moored anywhere, and periodically the taxi boats have to push them back to one of the parking spots across from the park entrance. And in addition to the confusing wandering, they all have bland and indistinguishable names, so when we returned for dinner we had to spend a good thirty minutes going to each one before finding our baby. My fourth and final meal was a delicious Bundun soup – somehow they made the cuttlefish tender and juicy, something I had never seen anyone make normally-rubbery cuttlefish be, and the clock was still off by a random amount of time. Quite charming.

So, to sum it up: I can't give you directions to the place, but the orange restaurant is the one you want.

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