Only One Way to Go: Down

I was driving a van up a one-way, steep mountain incline. Four of us were on our way to a mountaintop retreat with a van packed with luggage and accessories. I whipped around one steep turn and gunned it in first as I plodded up the hill when a horribly sick sinking feeling struck me: this van was not going to make it. It bogged down and nearly stalled. The power had dissipated. The only thing which was still going higher was the engine temperature. A driving predicament presented itself in vivid tropical terms: to the left was a steep cliff down to a quick death, to the right was walled cliff straight up, to the front was the steep grade my van couldn’t conquer, so only one option remained. Down.

As I looked in my rear view mirror, I didn’t like this option any better than the other three. Well, okay, it was better than the cliff to my left. The mirror revealed a narrow steep path I would have to back down. At the bottom of the grade was a hairpin turn that I would have to make in reverse with a van full of people. If I missed the turn, we would scoot into a large gully. I didn’t like our chances. I wanted better odds, but if I couldn’t get better odds, at least I hoped I had good brakes. I didn’t want to back this down, but there was no other choice. We couldn’t very well stay stuck on the steep grade for eternity.

So with the clutch pushed in, I started backing down, now hoping, trusting, and wishing on the brakes.

Life, from time to time, gives us little moments to increase our awareness of our own humanity. One slight misdirect and it all goes crashing over the cliff. The heart rate increases, the tense eyes are brought tenser by the dour movement of the eyebrows, muscles contract, the voice is slightly raised and urgent, sights and sounds are zoomed into a narrow focus — keep it tight, keep it real, stay focused, a lot rides on this — and you give it all you have to make it right, even if it doesn’t feel right in your gut.

When was the last time you felt like this? When was the last time that circumstances gave you a lesson in humanity, its frailness, its fickleness, its fleet-footed-ness?

In this particular case, I backed the van down to the lip of the curve, and as providence would have it, a van-sized pull-off was on the right. All I had to do was pull up the hill a smidgen, back carefully into the pull-off without my front tire falling off the cliff on the right, and I was on flat ground in the middle of mountain. I could breathe again.

Whatever cliff you are next to, keep the focus, look for the nearest pull-off and remind yourself that it’s a good day to be alive.

My Favorite Penang Eatery

Chuah’s Thai Food. Doesn’t this look absolutely amazing?  It is. I’m here most days for lunch, which typically costs 6rm (or about $1.50). Yeah, what’s not to love. I’ll outline my five favorite dishes just for the heck of it.

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5. Sweet Pork – When you aren’t feeling spicy, this sweet pork with a dark, flavorful sauce is terrific.

4. Green Curry – Soupy based green curry with chicken, beans, chilies, is SO flavorful that you will scoop up every last drop.

3. Long Bean & Pork – a terrific dish with perfectly stir-fried long beans, chilies, lime leaves, crispy pork, and a luscious yellow thick curry sauce

2 Minced Meat w/Egg –  we are turning up the heat on this one. The spiciest dish on the menu if you DARE eat all of the tiny chopped bird’s eye chilies which are added to this minced pork, oyster sauce, and incredible Thai basil. Add a fried egg, put over rice, and, oh my, let your taste buds explode. You will need a drink handy.

1 Padprik Chicken – The top of the heap in flavor and lusciousness! Chicken, red onion, chilies, and Thai basil are the four ingredients. Cooked with an amazing sauce which includes Tom Yum paste, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and chicken broth.

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Honorable Mention: Cashew Chicken – she cooks it with the same padprik chicken base without the basil or peppers – served with green onions and cashews – tasty!

Whenever I do leave Penang, I will miss this place incredibly. I’m afraid to tell you where it is, because it might get even more crowded than usual. And hey, I don’t like to wait for my food. But okay, it’s in Tanjung Bungah, Permai, opposite Tenby School.

Only in Malaysia

I’ll categorize this night as “Only in Malaysia.”

I took my wife out for dinner tonight as is often our Friday night routine. We went to a small Italian restaurant which we occasionally go to. The parking lot is in a small plaza just up the road from the restaurant. As I was ready to turn left into the plaza, I noticed that in the middle of the road was a massive shelter-on-wheels which is used as part of the daily night market. I brought the car to a stop, but two Indians waved me through. Yes, actually waved me through the narrow metal shelter with a tin roof and shaky metal sides, sitting on large rotating wheels. It was narrow, but I knew I could make it, so I drove through the make-shift tunnel, thinking that I can’t imagine any other country in the world which would have something like this.

After that, we pulled into the parking lot and two different Indians approached and said “two ringgit” for parking. Well, I’ve parked in that lot many times over the years and I’ve never paid a cent for parking. I knew the guys were there to make some money, so I looked at them and told them that I’ve never paid to park here before. They shook their head a little and replied “one ringgit.” I asked under what authority were they collecting money? They brushed that off like they didn’t understand. I then asked them if I they had a receipt to give me, which they didn’t. They knew that I knew that this was a scam. That was enough for me. I gave them one ringgit just so I didn’t come out of the restaurant and have a flat tire. I didn’t, so I guess it was worth it.

My third “only in Malaysia” moment happened when we walked into the restaurant. No one was at the door to greet me. No one was in the dining hall either. We walked further in, and I noticed that there was one person behind the bar with his head down buried in the wood. I yelled, “hello,” which suddenly woke up the restaurant. Workers crept out of walls, and the place quickly came to life. We had a great meal and even a 10% discount.

All and all a night which could (possibly) only happen in Malaysia. Always an enjoyable time!