Atchafalaya Swamp

Friday, June 29, 2007

Arghhh! NOT Another Food Review!

Pantai Jeram, The Other “PJ” - A Seafood Haven

MAT SALO, THE CONSUMMATE FOOD CRITIC is now back where he rightfully belongs, as a tenaga kerja asing in Indonesia.

After three hectic weeks in Bolaysia, consuming way-too-much foods rich in the bad stuff (but tastes good) I am suddenly afraid to attend my almost-due medical check-up. I am positive that my blood test results will snag a couple of "red-flags". And the attending physician would thus be forced to "lecture" me.

My irresponsible behavior these past few weeks, I'm certain, did no good to my already-elevated "bad" cholesterol and uric acid levels. Now, the latter you get from eating foods with high-protein content and makes you susceptible to a “Rich Man's” disease commonly called gout. But A Voice would beg to differ -he prefers calling the affliction "A Disease of Kings".

We only live once, so let me contribute more misery to your general health in the guise of a seafood review - Pantai Jeram particular - a mere forty minutes away from the Damansara Toll Plaza in Petaling Jaya.

Located in a small kampong nelayan north off the Kapar to Kuala Selangor trunk road, Pantai Jeram (as the name imply, it’s along the coast) is best accessed by first going south on the NKVE towards Klang. This makes no sense at first because you might think it’s better to get there from Sungai Buloh to Kuala Selangor and then head south.

As is often the case in Bolaysia, the longer route is often the shorter one. Time and headache-wise, that is. The caveat is you will have to fork over more of your hear-earned ringgits to a GLC behemoth called PLUS which operates the NKVE.

Not too long after passing the Bukit Jelutong interchange but BEFORE you reach Bukit Raja, stay on the left where you will steer your vehicle into the spanking new Setia Alam interchange. Exit here and mutter quietly under your breath while you pay the exorbitant toll fees.

But not to worry, as much as you curse at the ridiculous charges imposed by this GLC (and by extension, its patron, BN) you can be sure that in the next GE, BN will romp home with an even more resounding victory. After all, the opposition is in shambles and once-hopeful DSAI a pale shadow of his former self. The rejuvenated Prime Minister will find inspiration in his new wife and will trust her more than all the Fourth Floor boys put together.

It’s what the Yanks might call a “slam dunk” victory. This is not the point of the article I’m sorry – but remember you read it here first.

The Setia Alam interchange has got to be the mother-of-all interchanges as your eyes glaze over the impressive S.P. Setia Group development minutes into entering their wide dual-carriage ways.

You will first pass the Bolaysian version of a middle-class wet dream: The low density homes of S.P. Setia’s Eco Park. I'm sure you have already seen newspaper ads and pull-outs glorifying this real estate and wondered why the hell you can’t afford a house here. And perhaps you shake your head a little - whether people who could afford homes here are corrupt, or Exco members perhaps? Or all of the above? Perhaps I’m being presumptuous but I guess it’s OK to dream of owning a suitable semi dee here at prices rivaling a PJ link house.

The Eco Park comprises strictly semi-dees and bungalows only, the former's developer's price starting at a “mere” RM800K. To own a piece of the middle class’ wet dream your monthly income had better be in the five-figure range. Trust me, you’re looking at a 25-year tenure approaching 5 K a month; even a high four-figure income won’t cut it. Your loved ones, I’m sure, cannot survive on Maggi and fresh air alone.

Further on you will pass the “hoi-polloi” terraced homes of S.P. Setia’s adjacent development called Setia Alam, a project targeting the more “disadvantaged” class. Ha, with the more modest pricing, this woud seem to be a more promising proposition. But tell that to 95 percent of Bolaysians because now it’s not a question of how the other half lives but how the top 5 percentile seems to be racing further and further away. No thanks to recent government initiatives like taking the property gains tax away altogether.

This is good (or bad – depending on which percentile you belong to) but will provide more employment opportunities for security guards. You will always need security guards in a gated development, to further widen the gap between you and the riff-raff.

The only difference between the riff-raff and you is your much healthier bank balance, that’s all.

The downside to security services is it does nothing to a country’s GDP, except to either cause more school leavers to relocate from the hinterland to suburbia, or Sherpas from Nepal to dismiss their Yaks to descend to Bolaysia.

As you gingerly get set forth on the old trunk road, you will soon enter The Twilight Zone. I kid you not. In minutes Kapar beckons and you wonder why there was no immigration checkpoint. It almost felt like being Indonesia. Kapar is a bustling town, teeming with workers from industrial estates lining the old trunk road; dotting the landscape with electronics, furniture and shoe factories.

Perhaps even unlicensed massage parlors as well.

Kapar appears to be lawless.

Only one in ten motorcycle riders wear a helmet. Perhaps the policemen here have all packed up and gone to Johore - tackling something serious maybe? Kapar and its environs is not a village mind you, but a vast sprawling suburbia, so you expect more decorum from the populace.

Factories here operate 24/7 so you can imagine the hustle and bustle everywhere. Many of the non-helmeted looked suspiciously foreign born. Hang on, some of them appear to be pre-teen future MIC members too (wantonly flouting traffic laws by zig-zagging through traffic).

At every traffic light you will be swamped by under-aged touts (who should be at home reciting the multiplication tables – that’s how young they were) selling badly photocopied results of the day’s Da Ma Cai, Magnum, Toto or Kuda.

Welcome to the Street of Dreams that is called Bolaysia my friends, while the MIC representative pander to their makeover-ed dentist-boss in Shah Alam. At the expense of the constituents, young and old you ask? Heck, just take a close look around you.

Then there is the proliferation of pawn shops. I suspect this serves the community well during celebratory times like Deepavali, Hari Raya and to a lesser extent, Chinese New Year too. Of course, at the start of the school year too.

Imagine for a moment, less than ten minutes away, a couple in SP Setia's gated Eden might be arguing whether to get a second car, or whether to holiday in the Gold Coast (and we ain’t talking about Sepang’s Gold Coast here), or whether to bring the whole family for umrah. Nothing wrong with that, I’m sure. But it certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouth, because just on the other side of the fence, neon signs flashing facsimiles of jewelry, watches, and mobile phones (yes, them Nokias are acceptable as collateral) pervade the Ah Long-ruled Boulevard of (Broken) Dreams.

Then it gets worse, before it gets a little better.

Up ahead you might sometime see an “impediment” on the notoriously-dangerous Kapar – Kuala Selangor road. Ah, we now finally see the smart uniform of our fine Men in Blue – directing traffic around a corpse lying face-down in the middle of the road.

The victim looked like he was sleeping but curiously there was no “gore”. They haven’t got to the part covering the body with newspapers yet. Perhaps newspapers are either not sold here or are deemed too expensive to waste. Better to spend the money on Magnum. A kapcai motorcycle lay on its side nearby, looking quite OK actually. I couldn’t see another party to the accident – perhaps the victim just fell the wrong way - something fatal to his internals perhaps.

I can't help but feel something blasé about the traffic passing through the scene. Nobody stood around gawking like they do in KL or PJ causing the infamous “voyeur's crawl”. More like slowing down for a speed bump, nothing more. Maybe cars slowed down simply because the police was there. My impression is accidents occur so regularly here that nobody gives a hoot. It’s only something “that happens”.

Only when schoolchildren get knocked down during the day do the citizens get all flustered. Then they will be calls to their representatives in Shah Alam for more overhead pedestrian bridges.

But at night it’s just another statistic, usually involving a foreigner or other unsavory charachters (gangsters? Mat Rempits’s?), I don’t really know. But wait – if Azeez and Khairy are to be believed, Mat Rempits are respectable now, fashionable even, right?

You are almost there. Please discard your very recent unpleasant experiences for you will find salvation in the sumptious fare awaiting your already rumbling tummy.

A set of traffic lights at a four-way junction will find you taking left to stay on the old road to Kuala Selangor. If you happen to miss this and go straight - you might possibly end up in a town called Batang Berjuntai. There you will find yourself embarrassed; the unsavory connotation of the town’s name in relation to the family's genetical heirloom. It will at the very least cause some giggles, or a sharp rebuke from the spouse. Or both. Just don't tell anyone about it.

A left turn at another set of three-way lights will lead you into Pantai Jeram proper. The signs are neatly posted, so all you have to do is pay attention instead of quarreling with your spouse or pacifying the hyperactive junior in the rear.

The restaurant sits just a kilometer in but please do not go to the first restaurant you find at the end of the road fronting the beach. This will be your first instict, but heighten your resolve and fight it. My very trusted source, a Japanese-educated factory engineer-cum-fishing kaki claimed that the competition has claimed the cook from the first one.

Spy a left at a fork in the road just in front of the first restaurant. Fifty meters meters up ahead you will be rewarded with the facade of a nice kampong-styled restaurant straddling two acres of sea-frontage. It’s huge so you can’t miss it.

Physically the two restaurants are just separated by a small river. So it’s the one to the left. The tale sign of this new restaurant’s popularity is the always-full car park, even on a weekday. I had to drop my family first at the entrance before kiasu-ing along to find a space. It was also an excuse to smoke a cigarette in solace, away from the children and wife.

You can either chose to dine under the Nipah roof or alfresco under the serious moonlight, meters from the beach. I find fluorescent lamps not conducive to the fine appreciation of seafood cuisine so I chose the latter. The only regret is your child’s pram will get bogged down in the sand.

My better half chose the Sotong, Jenahak, Pari, and Ikan Sembilang with Chap Chai’s to provide roughage. We also ordered some Tom Yam soup for variety.

If I had four hands, I would give it a four-thumbs-up. So you can forget Bagan Lalang and other once-auspicious seaside seafood joints to burn your hard-earned money.

A quick glance at the prices:

Costs incurred by three full grown adults, a teenaged boy and six-year-old junior?

That will be RM 80.00, Ma'am - since Ma'am is the de-facto Finance Minister anyway - but that includes plenty of leftovers as well. In our excitement we had apparently over-ordered. The Tom Yam soup and Ikan Pari was left untouched - “tapao-ed” and subsequently consumed at the family dinner table the following night.

I particularly liked the Jenahak cooked in halia, and the Ikan Sembilang in Chili. I could just have either of those with rice and nothing else - and that would me very happy. But then again it takes verly little to make me happy. The deep fried sotong proved to be an excellent accompaniment as well.

Taste Bud Factor: 9/1o

Ambience: 10/10

Service: 7/10
(Fast and furious – only they accidentally sent an extra watermelon juice without prompting – or else I’d give them an 8)

Cleanliness: 8/10

Price: 11 / 10 (Cheap!)

Proximity: Good. 35 minutes post-Maghrib drive from Toll Damansara (53 km on the car’s odometer),

Fear Factor: 7/10 (more, if you find lawlessness welcome)

Car-jack Potential: Low to Medium unless you drive a Beemer, Merc or or something that requires an AP

Envy factor: High – only if you can’t afford the 800K semi-dees that is.

Quality time spent with family: I hate clichés, but you know you can’t put a price on this.


Many thanks to Dee, a fellow member of my
Midi-MPV Owners Group who first discovered this “PJ Seafood” haven. He just HAD to whet our appetites and base instinct for Sex, Shelter and Food didn't he?

Alfresco Dining in Pantai Jeram: Dee, a satisfied smile on his face after Mat Salo's succesful reconnoitering mission.

© 2007 Mat Salo Images. Photos exclusively taken with the Canon Digital Ixus 850 Compact.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Orgasm in the Realm of The Religious

A week ago I thought I had died and gone to heaven in the Merdeka Hall of the Putra World Trade Center. I was in sheer ecstasy (minus the pills, thank God) -experiencing the foremost exponents of the Electric Guitar, Tabla, Ganjira, Mandolin and the Human Voice perform that night.

Watching the frenzied orgy on stage by the five Kurta-clad maestros was something truly bordering on the orgasmic.

Some of the latecomers even faced my wrath for disrupting my state of total rapture - where I gave them a whispered tongue lashing (lest I disrupt my "trance" even more). Those idiots who hadn't set their mobile phones to Silent Mode were not spared either.

Damn, it was that good, and my ears are still ringing from the sonic sensuality a week later.

Now I know why people turn to Sufism.

How, do you ask, can five guys in Kurtas (one Caucasian, four Indians) come on stage, only to sit cross-legged - and enthrall a standing-room-only audience?

Easy. If you we're to realize that the five guys on stage are geniuses - and that their talent must be God Given. To paraphrase The Star's reviewer, 'musicians armed with such heavenly music'.

And heavenly they were, as no way can music such as this spew forth from mere mortals.

Way back in the Seventies, and as hormonally-imbalanced Form Three schoolboy with eclectic tastes in music, Liverpool Press books and La Scala, I was already listening to John McLaughlin.
It was an uncle's LP actually, and I think it was called "The Inner Mounting Flame". McLaughlin was the prime catalyst for several of Miles Davis' early forays into marrying jazz and rock, the most notable being "Bitches Brew". The original '72 Shakti line-up had Billy Cobham on drums, Jerry Goodman on Violins, Rick Laird on Bass and Jan Hammer on Keyboards. Violin maestro L. Shankar also toured and recorded with the group at some point .
In 1973, McLaughlin and his close friend Carlos Santana (with Santana taking the first name Devadip, while John took on Mahavishnu) were united by their spiritual guru Sri Chimnoy. This culminated in a critically-acclaimed duet album called "Love, Devotion, Surrender", possibly Santana's ONLY spiritual album to date.

And Ustaz Zakir Hussain? And what about this living genius?
The son of the legendary Ustaz Alla Rakha (Ravi Shankar's super sideman), Zakir moved to the States in 1970 to move in circles considered the super-galaxy of musicians, and by '92 had already bagged a Grammy for Best World Music category (together with Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart). In between engagements with Shakti, he also tours with brothers Fazal and Taufiq Quereshi.

Zakir is 56. But from what pictures I saw on album sleeves from the Seventies - damn - he still looked the same; the same fervor, the same boyish enthusiasm. Coming from the great Sufi traditions of Ustaz Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan he surely must've discovered the Fountain of Youth - on stage he still looked liked an over-eager schoolboy! And the tones - the tones - that he coaxed out of the tabla made you believe the tabla could be played like a guitar or piano.

U Shrivanas, the most youthful member of the troupe is probably the best mandolin player in the world (the mandolin looks like a guitar except it's a lot smaller - used a lot in Country and Western music) . My God, his telepathic interplay with ace slinger McLaughlin was a sight to behold. The incredible jazz runs, fingers flying across the frets in a cascade of orgiastic tones showcased the perfect menage-a-trois between Carnatic (South Indian), Hindustani and Western jazz!

I think I've run out of superlatives, because how could a bloody earthenware pot (ganjira) be coaxed to create those supreme sounds by the miracle percussive hands of Selvaganesh (ganjira, ghatam, mridangam) I don't bloody know.
Shanker Mahadevan's four-or-five octave voice will
quite possibly haunt me forever.

The audience, mostly musicians themselves, were all in awe, big time. Some had mouths hanging open through-out the performance. I suspect all live acts in clubs or bars around KL were closed that evening because anybody who's anybody in the local music fraternity had turned out in full force.
During the intermission, I rushed to the men's room to light up with drummer Zahid (Sheila Majid, Michael Veerapan) and drummer Tom (Headwind), where I also had the good fortune of bumping into local guitar supremo Josie Thomas. Boldly taking our smokes out of the toilet and into UMNO's No Smoking foyer, I suggested to Josie that he get the latest "Trisum" CD, a new release by Dewa Budjana (of "Gigi" - considered Indonesia's best rock guitarist), Tohpati and Balawan - Indonesian guitar legends in the veins of 3G.
Now this is uncanny and certainly begs belief - but when I read the Star's review on the concert a few days ago, the reviewer mentioned that Dewa B too was in the audience!
Holey - Schmoley!

Incidentally Dewa Budjana had just released a solo album in the States called "Home". Peter Erskine, who had "discovered" Budjana, basically twisted Sony BMG's arms to bring Budjana to the States. The sophomore effort features Erskine, Dave Carpenter and Reggie Hamilton. It was actually their second collaboration after the success of 02's "Samsara" .
Peter Erskine is of course a former member of Weather Report with stellar giants Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius and Joe Zawinul. Erskine's polyrhythmic playing can also be heard on albums by Diana Kraal, Linda Ronstadt, Steely Dan, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush and Lee Ritenour, to name a few. In 2005 Erskine took the Grammy for Best Jazz Album, together with Randy and Michael Brecker for his performance in "Some Skunk Funk".
Now if Pete E thinks that Bali native Budjana is worth recording with - then that's saying a lot.

Anyway, I kicked myself for not paying attention. I'm sure Dewa B was in the men's room with me at the Merdeka Hall that night but like I said, nobody was paying attention. Except, of course, for the Star's Nantha Kumar who spotted him amongst the audience.

Needless to say, we walked out of the hall feeling we had just had a profound religious experience.

A spiritiual orgasm of the highest order?
Without a doubt, yes.
Please also go to fellow blogger's Rajaram for his excellent take at http://rajahram.blogspot.com/2007/06/19-shakti-india-beat-3.html

(Photo Credits: Copyright © Malaysian Tenpin Bowling Congress, 2007)

Saturday, June 9, 2007

4 Dalil Kenapa Mat Salo . . . Vacation Edition

Four Reasons Why . . .

Mat Salo had to rush back from Indonesia recently - to take the "Four Reasons" for a quickie school vacation break. The Four Reasons, mainly (not in any particular order lest he be accused of favoritism): The only girl, the smaller boy, the bigger boy, and the better-half.

In line with Tengku Adnan's call, Mat Salo decided to spend his dollars in Penang, a small contribution on his part to Visit Malaysia Year '07.

More of "The Reasons" . . .

Along the way, off the beaten track is Parit Buntar's best-kept secret: "Shangri-La". Ask any salesman, Class A-F contractor in these parts and he will lead you to this joint. The food is superb, and the waitresses comely, some sporting dyed blond hair. Fuyoo!

To get here, northbounders to exit Taiping Utara interchange, go 30 KM past the sleepy town of Bagan Serai and enter town of Parit Buntar to your right. Go past some shops for about a kilometer and then look for a Shell station on the right. And right across it to your left is "heaven"! I kid you not.

The "Shang"

In contrast to the ladies above, no need to introduce you these mafiosi ladies below. They are helpers at the Tanjung Malim R & R. They do strike a mean pose don't you think?

Victoria Restaurant, Bukit Bendera, with fantastic 360-degree views of the island. And the food? Simply divine!

The Water-cum-Beach Babies, Kids and Adolescents

Lebuh Campbell Street Scenes: The Hunt for "Line-Clear" and Buah Pala at Chowrasta Market.

A trip to the Pearl of the Orient would be incomplete without paying homage to the late Loga at No. 2, Jalan Ayze, Tanjung Bunga (no one home when I came a calling - least of all you, Loga. May you R.I.P. and oh, thank you for the music, Sir.)

More Makan Scenes . . .

My eldest, digging in at a superb seafood eatery, appropriately called "The End Of The World" in Teluk Bahang

"Sleeping Cat" (Kuching Tidur) Durians in Teluk Bahang

Parting Shots: Batu Feringhi Beach Scenes


Mat Salo wishes to unreservedly and whole-heartedly apologize to Grand Sifu Chegu Nazir Khan for a cock-up that caused a planned rendezvous to fail. I believe Penangites have a term for this: it's called "kalut".

Mat Salo, true in his kalut-ness had inadvertently caused to save Chegu NK's phone number erroneuosly as "012" as oppossed to "017". Then MS had heed and hawed why the damn Maxis provider is at fault after countless attempts at calling and sms-ing to a non-existent number!

Furthermore, Mat Salo had also missed Mrs. Mambang Hijau - or more popularly known as Raden Galoh of "One Breast Bouncing" fame - by mere minutes! RG had checked in at the hotel next door, the Holiday Inn, while Mat Salo was busy checking out of the Park Royal! Of course, if Mat Salo had saved Chegu's number correctly the first time this idiocy on MS's part would never have happened. Just so you know, RG is in Penang with the Breast Cancer Survivors' Group to participate in the Penang International Dragon Boat Race.
Way to go RG! We're rooting for you!!!

Ever the optimist and in the belief of God's Grand Design, MS believes there's a "hikmah" to this.
Good things come for those who wait . . .

© 2007 MatSalo Images. Some rights reserved.