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Wed Apr 13 2016: Race tracks, Soya Sauce and Batik Lizards

It's stinkin' hot here.

With the temperatures soaring into the mid-30s every day, the only bearable times to go outside are early in the morning and after the sun sets at night. Otherwise, the minute we step outside of the hotel, we're instantly drenched in sweat! Because of all the sightseeing, we take about three cold showers every day and we're going through a lot of clothing!

Thankfully there's a laundromat just down the street. We go at night when it's cooler

This is bit of a glimpse into the more mundane aspects of life on the road. When you don't have a fridge or a closet or laundry facilities, the luggage, straps and tie-downs become an essential part of living on a motorcycle and getting chores done.

Okay, all finished. We have clothes for another couple of days now...

From talking to my relatives, this heat wave is not usual weather for Malaysia, even at this time of year. They've been hoping for precipitation for a few weeks now, which reminds us that although we've been very hot and sticky, we really haven't ridden through a lot of rain in the last 5 months. I can count the number of times we've had to don our rainsuits on one hand while in SE Asia.

Very un-RideDOT.com. After almost two years of riding underneath a constant rain cloud across Central/South America and Europe, have we finally turned the page on our streak?

We celebrate a successful laundry run with some Murtabak and Nasi Lemak and more Mee Goreng

So happy we are staying across the street from a hawker centre. It's like being in Wonderland, walking from stall to stall and picking what we want to eat everyday. Murtabak is roti that's stuffed with meat. Nasi lemak is fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves. All food from my childhood.

Start off every morning with a shot of liquid sugar: Teh Tarik

Malaysia has been all about the food for me. I remember when we met up with our friend Marco in Portugal when he was visiting his home country, he was eating all of his childhood favorites non-stop. I couldn't believe the amount of food that he was putting away at the time, but now I know exactly what he was doing... Culinary nostalgia.

Today, we're on a bit of a road trip, heading south out of Kuala Lumpur to visit a couple of sites. First on the list:

Sepang International Circuit!

It's only about 45 minutes away from KL on the highway. The site of some amazing motorcycle (and car) battles over the years. It's unfortunate that we are not here when there's a MotoGP race on. And we're about a month early for the Superbike races. Still, it was interesting riding the circumference of the facility and seeing the famous grandstand and track in person. In my mind, I'm replaying that epic clash between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez late last year!

We tried to get onto the track with our bikes but we were turned away by security... :)

Had to visit it like normal people do :( "Don't you know who we are?!?"

They had a small museum with a MotoGP sign, but there were no motorcycles there, just cars. Boring.

We didn't ride all the way to Sepang just to see an empty racetrack though. One of my family's enterprises is soya sauce production. My cousin who runs the operations offered to take us on a tour of the new facilities and it's right next to the racetrack!

So we ride over there for a tour and some family history

My great-grandfather, who founded the sauce factory back in 1910

My great-grandfather came to Malaysia from China at the turn of the last century. The first wave of Chinese who arrived here were traders that came in through the shipping ports in Penang and Mallaca in the 1500s. My great-grandfather was part of the second wave of Chinese that started to arrive from the mid-1800s. They came to mine the rich deposits of tin found around Kuala Lumpur. He invested in a tin mine and also started the Yuen Chun sauce factory in KL in 1910.

Tin-mining in Malaysia was a booming industry all the way to the 1980s. But due to depletion and high mining costs, that industry has tapered off quite significantly. In 1979, Malaysia accounted for 31% of the world's tin output. Today, virtually no tin is exported out of Malaysia.

The original sauce factory is in KL, but my cousin moved the bulk of the operations to Sepang

He showed us all the different stages of how to make soya sauce. From cooking the beans, to fermenting them, then creating the brine, all on such a massive scale! It can take several months to brew the highest quality batch of soya sauce.

While the sauce business is good in Malaysia, the plans are to court more overseas customers, offering to re-brand our soy sauce as well as other products like oyster sauce, chili sauce, etc. The Sepang facility is state-of-the-art (and secret so I wasn't allowed to take any pictures :), and is a great showcase for attracting an international audience. He showed me the skids full of Yuen Chun products that were re-labelled with the names of some pretty well-known western retailers. Impressive!

Thanking my cousin Choong-San for the tour and then off into the sweaty weather back to KL

I've picked up tidbits of our family history from my dad over the years, but talking to my cousins in Malaysia has revealed much more background into who my ancestors were, their personalities and the old family dynamics. It was like hearing gossip from over a hundred years ago! So interesting!

Back in KL, a more personal piece of my history - my childhood home

When we were booking our hotel, I tried to find a place that was close to my childhood home. So we are actually staying less than a km away from where I grew up. One day, we rode up to the old house and I peered through the gate to see if there was anything that I remembered. It was exciting to be here, but the past is so vague for me -- I think I left too young.

The only vivid memory I have of the outside is rollerskating on that driveway. I was maybe only 6 or 7 years old, so I wasn't allowed out on the street, but I remember tottering around in that small area behind the gate. And the rollerskates weren't even proper rollerskates. They were these clunky metal clogs with four wheels on the bottom that you strapped onto the bottom of your shoes! :)

Well, now I'm back here on a different set of wheels!!! Surreal!

I didn't want to ring the doorbell, because I had no idea who the current occupants were. But after talking to my cousins, they informed me that my dad sold the place to his aunt, and she still lived there! My grand-aunt probably has no idea who I am, but one of my cousins offered to introduce us and take us inside for a tour!


My cousin Tanya introduces me to my dad's aunt, current occupant of my childhood home

I remember a lot more of the inside. Over the years I've told Neda so many stories of my childhood and now finally I was showing her where all those events happened. Curiously, they were all stories about me getting in trouble, breaking stuff and hurting myself: "And over there's where I sliced my finger open while climbing that fence like a little monkey". "I broke the family TV when I was climbing that wall unit... like a little monkey". I did a lot of climbing when I was a kid...

We've visited Croatia so often and Neda's shown me so much of her youth while we've been over there. It felt really satisfying to be able to show her a bit of my past in person. I've come to understand so much more about her from meeting her family and seeing where and how she grew up. It was important for me to share the same thing with her.

A little bit of culture: we visited a batik gallery in town

Batik is the traditional fabric art of Malaysia. It's cloth that's been patterned with a wax outline and then painted with dyes so the colours remain inside the waxed outline. When the wax is washed off, the borders reveal the bare fabric underneath giving it its distinct look.

Yellow outline is the wax. When you paint inside the lines, you can bleed the colours without worrying that the paint will run outside the lines

Batik can be made from cotton or silk, and the painted fabric is be primarily used for baju (clothing) like shirts, blouses, headscarves and sarongs. My mom had batik fabric covering her furniture, and you can make curtains or tablecloths from it as well.

The gallery had a workshop where you could make your own batik patterns. Neda signs up!

The gallery doesn't want you take pictures of their products (they want you to buy them instead), but we were allowed to take pictures of other customers artwork:

These prints were still drying, so the wax outline is still intact

After the wax is washed away, this is what it looks like

Mass-produced batik utilizes a copper stencil called a "tjap" to apply the wax (inset), but the true artisans paint the pattern by hand using a tool called a "tjanting" or "chanting" like the label on this one says. It's a pen that uses a reservoir of hot wax to draw the outline. Very time-consuming though!

Neda really enjoyed her art project!
Nice batik apron, by the way

While I've had the blog and photography to occupy my spare time, over the last few years, Neda has had very little creative outlet aside from her cross-stitching. She really took to batik painting and the results look fantastic!

We picked up her batik the next day after the wax was washed off. Awesome!

To celebrate her batik, we went to Satay City, Malaysia...

Just like many regions are known for certain kinds of cuisine, like Assam Laksa in Penang, the city of Kajang just south of KL is known as Satay City. I remember as a kid, my dad would drive out to Kajang with my little brother and I for a satay lunch. My eyes would bulge seeing hundreds of skewers of meat cooking on the grills at the hawker centres. My dad would order something like a hundred skewers just for the three of us and we'd get well and stuffed on peanut sauce-drenched chicken, beef, pork and mutton.

I love satay!

Our last night in KL, dinner with my cousin Joo Khim and her husband Hanson

Joo Khim is my gateway to our family in Malaysia. She's been in constant contact with me over the Internet while we've been in SE Asia and she's organized all the family gatherings, as well as given me recommendations for the best places to eat in the city. We delayed leaving KL for a couple of days so we could spend some time with her and her husband and they took us out to Jalan Alor, a well known "food street" in Kuala Lumpur.

My family has been so kind and welcoming to us. It made us feel very loved and special. I get such a deep sense of belonging here that stretches back from before I was even born. I'm so glad I was able to share it with Neda.

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