Sunday 31 October 2010


I guess I was always going to be pleasantly surprised by Laotian cuisine, since my expectations of it were so spectacularly low. But even then I couldn't have anticipated liking it as much as I did.

The staple of Laotian food is sticky rice. It is served in small bamboo baskets, shaped and eaten by hand, always with three fingers, never four. Laotians say sticky rice is what makes them so languid, because it makes them stick to the ground. The Chinese eat steamed rice, they say, and are always rushing. (The country's full name is Lao PDR - the PDR standing for "Please Don't Rush", not People's Democratic Republic).

The country may be poor, but the land is fertile, and fresh ingredients abound. Wonderful fruit and vegetables, a lot of bamboo shoots. Like the Thais they use a lot of coriander, basil and mint. Unlike them, they shun coconut milk. They eat buffalo, as it is cheaper than beef. The flesh is rich and red, and looks gamey, but doesn't taste it. They cook on a Tao-Lo, which is basically a charcoal bucket, but fry and grill a lot of stuff - catfish, tilapia, chicken. Lao Sausage is always fried, and despite being fairly heavily rusked, is incredibly flavourful and addictive.

Cooking Lam on a Tao-Lo

They eat a lot of stew, or Lam, as well as Laap, a salad made with minced pork, chicken or fish, with a subtle array of herbs and chilli on the side. It is as fresh, clean and crisp as anything I have encountered on my travels. The food markets have all you can eat vegetable, noodle and rice buffets, and whatever grilled goods take your fancy. They sell soft boiled eggs marked with numbers to denote the developmental stage of the foetus inside, which I, unsurprisingly, decline.

I took a day's cooking class to get a feel for things. We started with Jaew Mak - a dip (eaten for breakfast with sticky rice!) made with eggplant or tomato, along with plenty of chilli, garlic and coriander. This is followed by Luang Prabang stew, that doesn't really do it for me, and the unquestionable highlight, stuffed lemongrass. You slice a few inches of lemongrass, without cutting right through the stem, creating a kind of basket into which you stuff minced chicken, coriander, lime and garlic. Or try to at least. Then they're coated in egg and fried, though I think I'll be putting them on the barbecue when I get home.

We have a choice of swapping the steamed fish in banana leaf for a steamed frog. I plump for the fish, partly because I find frogs to be repulsive creatures and have no desire to hold one's pulsating limbs in my hand whilst administering a deadly pestle blow to its head, but also because they yield precious little meat. Marcos, the guy next to me gets involved, killing then butchering the little guy with notable expertise (it transpires he is a vet).

Frog filleting

You can't eat without drinking, and you can't eat Laotian food without drinking Beerlao. Like everything else in this country, I love it. It's the best beer in Asia, comes in oversized pint bottles, and is acclaimed by connoisseurs, experts, expats, travellers and locals alike. Traditional Lao Lao Whisky is not quite so drinkable, being made from rice and tasting like fairly nasty grappa. Local attempts to enhance its 'flavour' by bottling it with snakes and scorpions result in a nose of pure alcohol infused with delicate reptilian aromas. On the palate it is frankly unpalatable, tasting like ten year old aquarium water with a few dead terrapins floating on the surface.

Lao Lao Whisky

I didn't eat a bad meal in Laos. Quite the opposite in fact; each one seemed to improve upon the last somehow. Just before leaving Luang Prabang I had a lunch of chicken and cashew nuts sat down by the river. It took forever to arrive, naturally, since no-one rushes and everything is cooked from scratch. When it came it was simple, fresh and brilliant, and by the time I'd finished it I really didn't want to leave at all, preferring to stay in Laos, eating something new and wonderful every day until I just grow old and die.

Charity Case

I stopped giving money to charity a year ago, mainly due to objections I have to the way the charity industry operates in the UK and to the disgracefully low percentage of the money they raise that reaches its target. Justgiving may have made fundraising a lot easier for people, and increased donations, but they also take 5%, and I object to them too.

So I stopped, but with the intention of resuming when I discovered a way of getting my money directly to where it is needed, in a country that I like and respect. Yesterday I found it.

Deak Kum Pa is an orphanage school a few kilometres outside Luang Prabang. It houses, clothes, feeds and educates over 550 Laotian children, from five year olds up to kids in their early twenties. Government funding for the orphanage is limited, only managing to provide two basic meals a day, and woefully inadequate living, teaching and sanitary conditions.

Male dormitory

At the weekends, there are no adults present. Just 550 kids of all ages living side by side in their cramped dorms. There's no trouble, fights or violence, because it is just not in their nature. They are smiling, polite and friendly. They want to learn and live and have fun, and it's impossible not to be moved to help them do it.

Thanks to a guy called Andrew, the owner of Lotus Villa where I stayed, the kids are getting bread rolls for breakfast, eggs twice a week and fruit once a week. He co-ordinates projects to build new dormitories, toilet blocks, classrooms and provide for the kids, using his own time and money, and that donated by his guests. 100% of every penny raised goes where it is needed - into the mouths of the children, or the bricks and mortar of the new buildings.


Sticky rice for 554 kids

This is charity as it should be - direct and effective. All those chugging charites back home with their slick marketing campaigns and overpaid execs should take a long hard look at themselves, and if you're giving or raising money yourself, you need to be satisfied that it's going where it should be.

Luang Prabang

The easiest places to write about are the ones you hate. There's nothing like having an axe to grind to get the literary juices gushing; you drink a few beers, plug the brain into the keyboard and let the vitriol pour forth. Spellchecker does the rest.

When I like a place I hesitate. It takes time to let my thoughts crystallize; even the most heartfelt praise needs empirical evidence to prop it up. It's not enough to say I love you, I need to tell you why.

Waiting for the thoughts and words to shuffle into some kind of order, you risk losing them. With Luang Prabang, the superlatives began suggesting themselves long before I even crosssed the Mekong to Huoy Xia. In my dreams I saw the reflection of a glorious city shimmering on the surface of a dull brown river, but instead it crept up on me, as dreams often do. Modest, subtle and unannounced.

Luang Prabang, Luang Prabang. Let me rummage in this old bag here and see if I can't find some words to describe you.

I love the smell of your twilight fires, and the sound of their crackling. I love peering through your fence as orange robed monks warm their hands by your glow. Across your tree lined streets, I love the sound of clashing metal, as the energetic voices of invisible tuk-tuk drivers play boules upon your hallowed ground.

I love your wooden houses. I love the stains that streak down your walls. I love the children that play in your streets, that stand naked in your doorways and laugh as you walk past. I love your smiles, transcending the moments through which you shine. That make a mockery of poverty, race, creed and culture. Smiles that turn your heart inside out and show the deepest warmth of your soul right where I can see you.

Luang Prabang, you are a beautiful woman who grows more beautiful with age. You don't fight time, but embrace and dance with him instead. As the years slip from you, the wrinkles augment your beauty; heightening your grandeur, not diminishing it. You are timeless, graceful, unforgettable, and I hope with all my heart you don't change before I return.

Friday 29 October 2010

Village People

An added advantage of my chosen mode of river transport is that we get to stop at a few villages along the way and gawp at the locals. There are some truly awful village experiences in Thailand, only slightly less distasteful than Victorian freakshows, but thankfully these aren't too bad.

The kids of Houy Palam have the day off school, and are scattered about the village hanging out or helping their mums pound rice. They don't mind you taking their photograph, so long as you leave a few quid in a box to help them build a new school, which seems like a fair exchange. The town is pretty well isolated here, they rear buffalo and cows, grow rice, and there are dogs, chickens and pigs scattered around the place, most of whom will end up being eaten.

Childhoods are truncated in Houy Palam, since they began reproducing as soon as they can. Attempts to educate them in contraceptive techniques have met with limited success - showing people how to put a condom on a banana doesn't quite register, and nine months later it turns out that a fully sheathed piece of fruit next to the nuptial bed doesn't actually preclude you from making babies.

A picture like this can seem a little odd to our prying western eyes. But who are we to contradict nature, who creates us and adorns us with the powers of procreation whenever she sees fit? Kids grow up differently here - it's impossible to gauge their ages, and you only have to look at their faces to see they are far older and worldly wise than a cursory glance would suggest.

Western childhoods have been practically abandoned to the modern world anyway; at least here they get to enjoy a pure, free pre-adolescence before assuming their natural roles. As we prepare to leave, most of the boys have headed down to the river. Naked or at best scantily clad, they laugh, shout, jump and play with wanton joy and abandon, completely uncorrupted by the trappings of modern youth and, for the moment at least, blissfully happy.

Downstream in Kohk Ek there's a different feel. They're selling stuff, for starters, and we are accosted by silk bearing women as soon as we step off the boat. It feels less welcoming here, and I'm not comfortable getting the camera out. Maybe they call it progress.

Wandering between the stilted houses, the children are conspicuous by their absence. Are they toiling in the fields, we wonder? But no; at the far end of the village is a school, and 150 kids are in their little classrooms, studying Laotian, English and History. There's not a sound from any of them, and their only signs of inattentiveness come when they peek through the slats in the walls to gawp back at us the way we've been gawping at them.

My only regret? That I didn't leave every last cent in that box back in Houy Palam.

Apocalypse Then

The Mekong River, the aorta of Indochina, meanders through the Laotian jungle like a long brown snake.

It takes two days by boat from Huoy Xai to Luang Prabang. You can go by speedboat in seven hours, but this is only really a viable option if you regard your life and luggage as frivolous luxuries worth squandering for the sake of a few hours and some rigorous spine compression. The only remaining question is whether to take the public slowboat, with its wooden benches and couple of hundred Thais and Laotians drinking, gambling and squabbling over the solitary lavatory, or a private one, bedecked with old bus seats, picnic chairs and a table for lunching and playing leisurely games of backgammon as the lush green scenery rolls effortlessly by. The drinking and gambling might entertain me for an hour or so, but two days? Relative comfort triumphs in a swift, bloodless tussle.

I imagined the Slow Boat's slowness would make the greatest impression upon me, but it was quickly usurped by the extraordinarily sense of complete remoteness. The great river runs through barbaric wilderness, tamed in just a few choice spots by a cluster of houses where hill tribes meet the water, and with it the fragments of civilisation that traverse its length. We stop at a couple of them (next post) and spend the night in Pak Beng, a halfway house of a place if ever there were one.

All that time on the boat affords you plenty of opportunities to reflect. And despite my best efforts, though probably understandably, I can't stop thinking about Apocalypse Now. Of the prospect of being subjected to a brutal attack by stick firing tribesmen or the face of a dead black guy being silently consumed by the murky water. But moreover, by the notion that I am actually playing out that drama in reverse. Not for me an irresistible journey into the magnetic Darkness of the soul, rather the slow but steady draw of a revelatory gravity, and a gradual stumbling from darkness into Light.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Moon River

"The best Mexican food this side of the border" read the sign. Which would be fine, except they're talking about the border between Thailand and Laos, otherwise known as the Mekong River. I resist the temptation, and spend my last night in Thailand eating barbecue with the Chiang Khong locals instead.

Natural borders make so much more sense than man made ones. Rivers, mountains, seas; these are the things that should divide people, not lines drawn on maps by distant men. Slumped in my hammock looking out across the river to Houy Xia and listening to the faint music drifting across the river, I wondered how different it could really be.

An understandable duality shrouds you when you stand on the brink of something. A border or cusp, real or figurative; leaving one thing behind, entering another. Reflection, anticipation. It might actually be the greatest thing about travelling, moving from one place to another, body and mind constantly charged and energised by these changes. And not just travelling but life, too, come to think of it.

As I mused over these things, an apparition began to materialise above the opposite bank of the river. A warm yellow glow climbed reticently from behind the landscape, winched into the sky by an invisible hand. It took me so long to realise that it was the moon, as I sat transfixed by it, that by the time I reached for the camera, it had risen quite quickly and the sun's distant glare was shimmering off its dimpled skin, suffusing the dark night.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Chiang Rai

I don't have an awful lot to say about Chiang Rai. The Lonely Planet says it is "more liveable than visitable" which seems to be a polite way of telling you not to go there.

I went anyway, mainly because it was in my way, and also because it is the best place to go trekking from. But the Lonely Planet's advice is evident, because there seem to be a lot of white guys living here. They could be attracted by the clock tower, resplendent in its coat of shiny gilt, surely the most tasteless roundabout in the world, and peculiarly reminiscent of Del Boy's mum's ostentatious grave in Only Fools and Horses when they inadvertently daubed it in luminous paint.

Or maybe they're here for the dubious bars, fronted by nubile Thai girls of questionable age, frequented by fat balding Brits of questionable morals. Last night I sat in a restaurant and listened to an effeminate Northerner arguing with the owner in English before ordering Spaghetti Bolognese with Garlic Bread. Then another ugly fat bloke the wrong side of fifty waddled in to eat chicken and chips in silence, before slinking off to no doubt exercise his economic superiority over the local population.

I like Thailand. I like its people, its countryside. But I despise its moral ambiguity, and moreover, I despise my compatriots, and everyone else, who flaunt their relative wealth to extend their pitiful sexual dominion over those people weaker and poorer than themselves.

I have to leave before I drink myself into a Travis Bickle style stupor, stuff snooker balls in my socks and go marauding around the streets in the dead of night looking for Gary Glitter, or anyone else who happens to bear him anything approximating a passing resemblance, and beat them to within a few inches of their miserable, sordid little lives.

Monday 25 October 2010

Welcome to the Jungle

I'm a bit of a pussy when it comes down to it. I like to be comfortable. I don't like strange creatures nibbling away at me; mosquitoes, snakes, beetles, hirsute caterpillars. So when I woke up yesterday morning, I was really thinking about ducking out of my two day jungle trek and hanging out in Chiang Rai instead. Thankfully, something deeper than all that won the day.

After an hour or so in a boat up the Mae Kok river, twenty minutes on the back of an elephant and a couple of hours of uphill struggle through Thai jungle, myself and Woot, my guide, finally arrived at Akha village, saturated with sweat, exhausted and smelling like Robin Hood's armpits. Just another ten minute walk (in our flip flops) and we were showering underneath a mercifully cold waterfall and I was trying to remember when I last felt this happy.

Akha Hill Village

I helped Woot and Apha, our guide for the next day, cook dinner, and in true hilltribe style, we cracked open a few beers. When the sun had shrunk from the valley, Woot asked if I wanted to walk back to the waterfall. He wouldn't go because, he said, Thai people believe in ghosts. I told him I wouldn't go because I was afraid of the living things out there, not the dead ones. As if to prove my point, a massive beetle landed between us, scaring the crap out of me. They obviously thought this was hilarious, picking it up and throwing it at one another whilst relishing my discomfort. We turned in for the night when the excitement was over, at a saintly 8pm, and fell asleep listening to the gentle sounds of the jungle, woken only by an owl perched on the roof of our hut, hooting knowingly.

When I was a lot younger and fractionally more stupid than I am now, I would often watch the sun coming up. It's not a habit I carried with me into my thirties but this morning, urged on by a crowing cockerel, I clambered out from under the mosquito net and strolled into the village in my underpants to watch day emerge from night.

A few hours later, replenished by my twelve hours kip and four slices of toast thickly spread with crunchy Sun Pat, we're off again, back in yesterdays crusty clothes, a new "That's not a knife" knife swinging from my hip and just the jungle ahead of us. We walk, talk a little, every now and then, and sweat. Along the way we harvest lemongrass, banana leaves, shoots and tea. In a small clearing we begin on the bamboo. We make fishing rods, cups, chopsticks, plates and cooking tubes. "Jungle is like 7 Eleven", says Woot.

We stop for lunch, and try to fish but apparently another tribe upstream are using nets, so we're having pork. It's the only thing we've not picked up along the way, though in theory we could have raided a neighbouring village for a pig or two. Apha cooks lunch on the fire while I stroll around unhelpfully looking for things to do with my knife.

Bear Grylls? Taught him everything he knows

Apha and Woot

After lunch we head our separate ways; Apha back to the village, Woot and I to the Hot Springs where he left the car, twelve kilometres away. It's a long old walk, through rice fields, tea plantations, but we get there in the end. By the time I'm back in Chiang Rai, aching all over, with a fascinating array of new insect bites despite the 33% deet, I feel somehow different. I always look to explain things through comparison with others; best this, best that. Finest whatever since whenever. It's all bollocks.

Experiences like this neither need to be, nor prosper from being, measured against others. Rather they are the things that make you realise you are alive, that the world you live in is inherently wonderful, and that each genuinely new experience, regardless of its nature, is irrefutably greater than the last.

Friday 22 October 2010

Chiang Mai

You gain a unique perspective of a city from among the rooftops. Not by looking down at it, but by listening. It's a distillation; all the other senses stripped away, leaving just the sounds. Sat up on the terrace here in Chiang Mai, all I can hear is the irregular but persistent phut-phut of the tuk-tuks, and the city sounds like a waiting room full of infants when the whooping cough's in town.

Chiang Mai may well be the biggest city in Northern Thailand, but it never quite feels like it. The old town centre is as near to a perfect square as town planners get, marked out by an ancient wall and moat. Within it are all the usual South East Asian charms; quirky little alleyways, food carts, holes in the road, stray dogs, low hanging electricity cables, massage parlours, 7 Elevens, McDonalds, Starbucks and colourful tuk-tuk drivers canvassing your fare. And temples, of varying condition and grandeur.

Atop a nearby hill, the temple daddy, Wat Suthep, keeps watch over the city. They like their gold in Thailand, sometimes a little too much, but this place just about pulls it off. That's partly due to the setting; a crisp view of Chiang Mai below, and raw natural beauty all around. Only the high pitch of the crickets, sounding like a million kettles all boiling at once, upsets the harmony.

I was fully prepared to fall in love with Chiang Mai. It's not Southern Thailand, with its marauding backpackers, stunning beaches, mushroom shaped Bond islands and sex-pats. It's the North. It is different. Rugged, genuine, honest. And maybe it is, but it doesn't quite manage to charm me, and I can't help feeling a little disappointed

An hour either side of five, the city chugs to a standstill, and the fumes from a few thousand tuk-tuks stifle the air. The markets sell almost exclusively tat, and manage to string the same four stalls out over what seems like a few square miles (why do people have a foot dragging, deathly slow market walk?). There are some good eateries, and the bars don't feel quite as sordid as I'd feared, but just a couple of days here is enough for me, and it's definitely time to leave the tuk-tuks in my dust.

Thursday 21 October 2010


The image quality on blogger has nosedived in the last couple of weeks. It's too late for me to change sites, so I will continue posting pictures but apologise for their poor resolution. If you click on an image you will see a higher resolution version, or you can look at my photos on flickr by clicking the link on the right, under MY LINKS.

Thailand: Cooking up a storm

Having survived a couple more flights unscathed and undelayed, I find myself living in a grand old Colonial style house on a quiet country estate about half an hour outside Chiang Mai, Thailand. I'm the only guy there, just a few maids, tanks full of bearded dragons and a litter of ugly little runts for company.

A litter of runts, with one fluffy exception

The house belongs to a guy named Sompon, one time TV chef, and next door is his Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. I've not cooked much Thai food, though I've eaten my fair share. But for each of the past five days, we have prepared, and then eaten, six different dishes. On one of the days I took a one-on-one "Master Class" in the evening, thus yielding another feast that needed eating.

Fruits of a Master Class

Here then, in a coconut shell, is what I have learned about Thai cooking, as the rain belted down all around us:

1. Thai food is fast food. Very few things are cooked for any length of time. Preparation may be ponderous - making pastes, chopping, slicing, carving vegetables, but once you have your mise en place, the rest follows très rapidement.

2. The key to Thai food is the balance between salty, spicy, sweet and sour. Saltiness from fish sauce, soy, and shrimp paste. Spice from chillies (lots of chillies) and unusually hot peppercorns. Sweetness from sugar, shallots, and palm sugar (which also adds a smooth richness). Sourness and astringency come from lime juice, tamarind and rice vinegar.

3. Lemongrass, galangal, basil, coriander, garlic, coconut and lime leaves, when administered in the right proportions, are the fragrant devices that elevate Thai food to dizzying heights.

4. A good curry, according to Sompon, is 80% paste, 20% chef. Good paste + happy cook = good curry. Making paste takes time and a strong wrist. The trick is not to grind and crush but pound, always in a downward motion. Or make at least a kilo and stick it in the Magimix.

Red Curry with Roast Duck

5. Imaginative garnishes and vegetable carving abound. The more intricate the garnish, the more you can charge. If you can't be bothered to spend hours making (or at least trying to make) tomato roses and lotus flowers, get someone else to do it.

Som Tam - Papaya Salad

6. Stir fry works like this: careful, consistent prep. Cook in the right order, on a high heat for a short time, stirring constantly, and serve immediately.

Stir Fried Mushrooms with Baby Corn

7. Salads are about crisp, fresh flavours. And chilli. And ludicrous garnishes.

Northern Chicken Salad

So now I am as big as a house, having consumed the equivalent of about ten meals a day for the last week. I waddle away bound for Chiang Mai with a much deeper understanding of Thai cuisine and some mean recipes to go to work with. The longer the week went on, the better, quicker and more confident I got. Even better than all that though, having cooked non-stop for five days, I remembered just how much pleasure it really gives me.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

鬼佬 Gwei Lo

I was on the subway in Hong Kong the other day. Across from me, a woman was clutching a cloth shopping bag with "The Outsider" written on it. On her left, a Chinese man was gabbling ferociously into his cellphone. He made me think how different Hong Kong is from Japan. She made me think of Camus. The Outsider. L'etranger. The stranger. The foreigner.

Asia can make you feel alien unlike anywhere else on earth. In Japan we are Gai Jin, which literally means foreigner or outsider. In Hong Kong though, we become Gwei Lo, or, literally, ghost men, and there is something wonderfully poetic about that moniker. You can imagine, as the first ships pulled up in Hong Kong harbour and these cadaverous alien sailors emerged from their hulls, how the Cantonese must have mistaken them for something even more sinister than that which they actually were.

Now it's gone from being a racial slur to a casual slang term used by ex-pats to describe themselves, with not a hint of irony. But in those moments travelling in strange countries when you are most acutely aware of how alien you are, when the differences between people seem to overpower the similarities, the feeling of being a ghost, floating unseen in their midst, comes closer to describing the sensation than anything else.

I had forgotten about all this until that evening, sipping a gin and tonic when I caught sight of the ashtray on the bar, and the word CAMUS stamped upon it. And I smiled inside at how marvellous it is that little clues and prompts for our thoughts are scattered all about the furniture of our lives so cleverly, and that every now and then we are actually lucky enough to notice them.

Monday 18 October 2010

More lessons from a culinary genius

There are some dishes you've eaten so many times that you start to lose interest. And they've been cobbled together, bastardised and mistreated by so many people who never really knew what they were to begin with, that they've lost interest too. Take sweet and sour pork for example? How many times have you eaten it, and just how shit is it?

The answer is that you have probably never eaten it. I hadn't either until a couple of days ago. But, back in the kitchen with my new culinary Goddess, Martha Sherpa, I ate a dish of sweet and sour pork that I'd made, to her recipe, that blew every chinese, faux-chinese, pseudo-sino plate of MSG laden bullshit I'd ever encountered in my sorry life right out the kitchen window. Why? Because it was pork, and it was sweet, and sour.

Sweet and sour pork

She didn't stop there. We made char sui - proper Chinese barbecue pork. The key to it is in how you choose and cut the meat. Shoulder, or butt, plenty of fat and nice marbling if you can get it, then three quarter inch slices, but crucially, all the same thickness, which is a lot harder than it sounds. Marinade, roast, turn, roast. Glaze. Roast, turn, glaze, roast. Glaze, dry. And there you have it. We taste each individual piece, to understand how the meat you start with, and how it is cut, affects the end result. Another lesson learned.

Char sui

Before all this though, we began the day by stuffing a duck, sewing up its backside with a metal skewer, pumping it full of air and painting its skin with a maltose vinegar solution. We then hung the poor bugger by his neck in front of a fan to dry out.

Pre-roasted duck

Later he would suffer further indignation when, having been roasted in the oven and sufficiently rested, he found himself on the wrong end of my cleaver. The Chinese don't carve, they chop. The entire bird, carcass and all, is hacked into bite-sized pieces. I get the hang of it after a while, using the heel of the blade and growing in confidence. The final test - chopping his head in half, which I amaze myself by ace-ing.

A deadly chop to the head

Martha fills the time between all the marinading and roasting with some wok skills. Hong Kong fried rice and Singapore noodles. (Actually they're Singapore noodles Hong Kong style, begging the question, why not call them Hong Kong noodles, but never mind). I've used a wok before, but never properly. She shows me how. A wet towel (so it doesn't burn, never mind your hand) in the left, spatula in the right. Wok angled at almost 45º so the contents slide back down into the centre. And turning, left side, right side, never in the middle. As you work, things slip out of line, and Martha is on hand to reprimand you. The result, unlike my technique, is undeniably great.

Singapore noodles before...

...and after

I've always known I could re-route my round the world trip if I wanted or needed to, but had privately resolved not to. I could never have guessed that a stern but likeable Chinese lady who makes me re-slice my ginger and pick tiny morsels of minced pork off the walls would be the one to do it, but she did. Singapore is out and a return to Hong Kong is in, just for one more afternoon in her kitchen. Or is that Hong Kong, Singapore style? I guess I'll never know...