Sunday, 15 July 2007

A Slice Of Nirvana

The working title for this post was (seriously), "I Can Has Duck ConFEE?" And the answer? "Yes I can!" And I did.

Friday, July 06, 2007

She practically shoved the address up my nose. "Here." I had obviously made her upset. How or why, I couldn't remember. An amazing feat, since we were on Yahoo! Messenger.

I had never even heard of this place until last night. Somebody had done a pretty good salespitch, ooing and aahing over luxuriously rich duck confit and pasta, creatively scrumptious apple tart dessert and lemon meringue pie, all at "proletariat prices". But she didn't have to mention the pricing.

She had me at "confit".

Which was why I walked all the way from my office to The Bodhi Tree.

It didn't take long to find the restaurant, tucked away so neatly off one of the main roads in the heart of KL. On the outside, it looked pretty run-down. A bodhi tree stood stoically at one side of the gate. In the small front yard a light-box menu tried its tired best to tease potential patrons with pictures of some of the delights to be found within. I walked under a trellised arch thick with vines and entered through the nondescript front door.

The interior was much cooler. Looking around, it seemed like somebody decided on a whim to set up an eatery at his home. The uneven floors, old wood and metal furniture, bamboo-splint blinds, roughly textured paint on the walls that were peeling in places, all this lent the place an old-world, bucolic charm.

There was one disconcerting detail: the indentations in the chair-seats that would fit a pair of butt-cheeks. Please, please tell me those were made by the carpenter - with his tools.

Soon after I ordered the confit set lunch, the soup du jour arrived at my table. I had a look. Looks like pumpkin soup. A moment later, a sniff. Smells like pumpkin soup. After a few shakes of pepper and some stirring, a taste. Tastes like pumpkin soup.

When a waiter came to collect my empty bowl, I asked him. "Pumpkin soup," he replied.

Actually, I could have saved myself all the drama by taking a careful look at the huge chalkboard hanging behind the counter, but that's me. And it was damned good pumpkin soup, by the way.

My duck confit pasta arrived in - and nearly covered - a plate roughly nine inches across. Now this was a main course portion. I was happy.

One thing I couldn't forgive was the tomato sauce. While the dish was good overall, I questioned the wisdom of nearly smothering the duck confit in tomato puree. Gamey meats like venison, duck, reindeer, lamb and impala should be allowed to take centerstage, even if some people are put off by the smell.

Still, it was good duck. Lip-smackingly dehydrating (that tomato sauce again), but good.

But wait, there's the bread pudding.

By the time I had polished off the main course the lunchtime crowd began pouring in. Tranquility was soon overtaken by chaos. While it was irksome, it provided some sense of relief. I am not dining in a dying restaurant. Even before dessert arrived I had already scheduled my return.

I got scalded by my first bite of pudding, thoughtfully heated up by the floor staff.

First-degree burns aside, dessert did not disappoint. Like a teasing lover, the pudding initially resisted my spoon, and finally yielded as I applied more pressure. Most important of all, it tasted like bread pudding should. The caramel sauce that draped the dessert was OK; samplings of other caramels evoked memories of bad cough syrup. The scoop of vanilla ice cream provided the buzz of the post-coital cigarette, contrasting and complementing the warmth and sweetness of the pudding.

Like Buddha all those ages ago, I attained enlightenment in the shade of a bodhi tree. If this unassuming place - hidden away like a hermit's retreat deep in the heart of an asphalt jungle - could offer so much, what other wonders would reveal themselves if we cared enough to venture where others wouldn't deign a second look?

That heady feeling of discovery was still there when I picked up the tab. I was so far gone, I paid for RM31 with two notes: one blue and one red. The lady behind the counter tactfully prompted me with the right amount. Somehow, it felt like a great way to end a wonderful meal.

True nirvana may be beyond the reach of ordinary mortals, but I came away happy, feeling as if I had a glimpse of it.

The Bodhi Tree
1 Jalan Kamunting
Off Jalan Dang Wangi
50300 Kuala Lumpur


Monday, 9 July 2007

Don't Ask Them About Ohana

There's one scene in Lilo & Stitch where Experiment 626 (a.k.a Stitch) hitched a bike ride with his new mistress, Lilo. He was anticipating a trip to a big city, where there's plenty of things he can destroy: buildings, vehicles, etc. What greets him, however, as they reached the top of a hill, was a sparsely populated stretch of real estate that gave way to the vast open sea.

"It sure is nice to live on an island without any big cities, isn't it?" Lilo asked her new pet. In reply, the poor creature fell off his seat and rolled around on the ground, whining pitifully.

It's a very funny scene, despite the enormity of what might happen if Stitch had discovered a whole city full of potential playthings.

That was the parallel I drew with the scenes of destruction and havoc wreaked by the Pakistani student-militants. What can I say? I'm a twisted individual.

Stitch was created and fine-tuned by his creator to be a machine of destruction. That is all these pitiful, misguided individuals are in my eyes: life-sized representations of Stitch. Their idea of regime change, after all, is the dismantling of the existing governments and their infrastructure. Once everything in their path has been subjugated or annihilated, what is left for them to destroy?

When the Taliban drove the Russians out of Afghanistan, they set about doing the only thing they were trained for: they destroyed tapes, kites, non-religious books, anything "unIslamic". With the cities all levelled and all the citizens cowed with threats of death and imprisonment, they turned their guns on the statues at Bamiyan. If the US didn't interfere, chances are good they'll be knocking on their neighbours' doors. "Hey, open up! You have unIslamic elements in there, and we're going to clean it up!"

Considering the level of expertise with which they "cleaned up" Afghanistan, I can understand anyone's reluctance in accepting the Taliban's generous offer.

Murder is a grave crime in every single civilised country; vandalism less so. The laws concerning those, secular or otherwise, are loud and clear. If everybody is allowed to vent their anger in any way they choose, all hell would break loose.

That's why Dr M's latest statement vexes me. Whether he realises it or not, he's actually condoning terrorism - and in the case of Pakistan, treason - as a justified response against perceived grievances and injustices - making him (nearly) as irresponsible as the clerics who brainwashed the students.

It will not end if the "root causes" of Muslim anger are addressed. Today it's Western attitudes; it could be something else tomorrow.

Because anger is blind to what it burns - and what it needs to burn.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Too Much Information

Saturday, 30 June 2007

MidniteLily's decision to (maybe) attend the latest round of Readings spiced up what was becoming a monthly routine - depending on the circumstances. There were certainly a few new faces among the attendees, but she was nowhere to be seen.

It was still a memorable affair, though. For reasons good and bad.

Good, because of two celebrity writers: David Byck, and Andre Vltchek. There seems to be at least one luminary among the readers for each session, which contributes a great deal to the main goal of Readings: encouraging writing talent.

Byck stood out because of how my attention was drawn to his book a few weeks back at MPH MidValley for some reason I could not fathom. It's A Long Way to The Floor brings to mind the recollections of a CEO who has gone back to his roots, not a story of someone's path to discovering yoga. Yogis, as far as I can tell, stay real close to the ground.

Good, because Sharon, the emcee and a major driving force behind the organisation of the event, took her turn at the mike and did not disappoint. It is, in addition, a great boost to her credentials as a teacher of creative writing.

So, why the bad? Well, "bad" wasn't exactly the word I wanted to use...

"...the nose, that organ located halfway between your eyes and mouth... that very useful organ, good for smelling and most of all, digging..."

What - the - hell?

"...yes, nose digging is such a relaxing activity, does not harm the environment or endangered species, a great way to pass the time, unsurpassed by anything else, except maybe..."

The revelation that followed drew mixed reactions from the crowd. I knew at that point I shouldn't be in the room. But it only got weirder from there. The mental overload that started with the recitation on the benefits of nose-digging kept me rooted to the spot like a stroke - without the debilitating side effects. It didn't help that my own nose was itching towards the end.

I wanted to sink into the floor. Get struck by lightning. Be attended to by Dr Kervorkian. Meld into one of the abstract paintings on the walls. Anything. Just get me out of here!

It was later revealed that the author had written all that himself (in Malay) and passed it off as the fevered mumblings of a man dying of some obscure cancer. I'm still conflicted over whether it was "bad", extremely funny, or both.