Sunday, September 28, 2008

La Rossa & The Chicklets

No, it isn't the name of an all-girl band but the residents of our Istana Ayam (Chicken Palace). La Rossa has been with us more than 3 years, the sole survivor of barnyard accidents, dog attacks etc. She was once injured by a falling frame (entirely her own stupid fault for trying to perch on it) so I took her to our vet then hand-fed her pain killers til she recovered.

So I'm sure you can understand (even though the pragmatic locals can't) why we haven't consigned her to the pot even though she's passed her egg-laying phase. She struts about, free-range except at night, like a Chelsea Pensioner, resplendent in red coat and living on the past.

The Chicklets represent the egg-laying future: three little hens past their cute fluffy stage but kind of appealing in a gangly, brainless, adolescent way. We're hoping by the time we return from our NZ holiday in January, they'll be laying their first eggs. The difference in flavour and texture of organic, free-range eggs makes it all worthwhile. And to be honest, we've rather come to like our feathered friends, and even our two dogs have come to accept La Rossa — provided she doesn't help herself to their food until they decide they've had enough.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pins & Needles

It may seem somewhat strange that even though I've lived among the Chinese in Southeast Asia for 40 years, until now, I've never tried Traditional Chinese Medicine, or more specifically, acupuncture. The reason is that I have been blessed with good health and never needed it, but about a month ago, an X-ray showed I have "mild to moderate" spinal degeneration with bone growths on a couple of vertebrae pressing on a nerve and causing leg pain.

Through a series of incredible good luck and coincidences, we were introduced to a TCM doctor from northern China, who has a "clinic" here. He and his wife don't speak any English or Malay (despite 4-5 years in Kota Kinabalu) but we've been lucky to be introduced to a very kind woman who not only speaks Mandarin and English, but Malay and a few Chinese dialects. she acts as our go-between with Dr Wong.

Today is day #10 for both JF and I. Amazingly, my leg pains diminished after the first treatment and only once have I had to resort to pain-killers since starting the course of acupuncture. JF is feeling less shoulder pain and starting to have relief from his chronic insomnia, so we're both delighted.

The "clinic" inspires less confidence than the doctor himself, trained at a Beijing university, 30 years experience, understands Western medicine and asks you to bring in X-rays and MRIs. He has a strong northern accent, which makes me giggle as it reminds me of someone from Somerset. The clinic is room 6021 in the Ruby Hotel, on the edge of the old Kampung Air (Water Village) district. It consists of 1 double bed (the conjugal bed after hours); 1 single bed; 1 proper massage table and 2 armchairs, all separated by curtains. However, one day I found myself sharing the double bed with an elderly lady having treatment for a stroke! At least a pillow was placed in the middle to mark a separation!

Although I hate needles and injections, the insertion of the acupuncture needles (we have our own set, sterilised after each use) isn't painful. They only just pierce the skin, then are connected to electricity for light impulses over a 20-minute period. The only discomfort — no, dammit, it was pain — was a couple of times when the needle must have been touching a nerve and when the power went on, I felt I was being electrocuted. I realised that I would have been a lousy member of the Resistance — no way I could have withstood torture, especially if it involved electric shocks!

As well as the acupuncture and acupressure massage, I've embarked on Chi Kung, the ancient art of energy management which can be very effective for degenerative disease (such as my back problem). So after four decades, I'm fully embracing the Chinese approach. But regretably, I'm still not speaking Mandarin.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shrimp In a Bottle

The mantis shrimp is fairly common in Sabah’s seafood restaurants, but instead of swimming live in an aerated tank like other prawns and shellfish, each mantis shrimp - normally about 20 cm in length — occupies its own small plastic bottle filled with seawater. Obviously, the tiny shrimp are popped in the bottle which is partially closed until they’re too big to force their way out, so the unfortunate creatures sit there growing until someone chooses them for dinner. Stir-fried with salt and black pepper is the recommended cooking style here.

Until a couple of days ago, I’d never seen mantis shrimp in the fish markets, so when I spotted fresh (but not live) ones at a remarkably reasonable price yesterday, I bought them. They weren’t very big or fat, but I figured that once they’d been steamed, the flesh would be good with pasta for lunch.

I don’t know if it was a question of their age or freshness (they looked and smelled fresh), but it was impossible to remove the flesh in one piece, as with a prawn. It was a really fiddly business to scrape out every morsel of the soft flesh, which I put into a pan with finely chopped garlic sautéed in olive oil, and a dash of chilli flakes. I boiled the empty shells with water and used this to cook the linguine, extricating as much flavour as possible. The result was very tasty, but I just wish there’d been more shrimp meat.

When we saw a mantis shrimp doing acrobatics off a coral reef during a dive trip a few years back, my dive buddy remarked they were “so sweet” she wouldn’t eat them. Being a foodie almost as much as a conservationist, I replied that I eat them precisely because they are sweet. Would I buy them again and go through the hassle of digging out the flesh? Probably not. I’ll save mantis shrimps for the next time I see them in a bottle at a seafood restaurant.