Saturday, September 08, 2012

KL Food Review - Sri Paandi

As I'm preparing to leave NL, I'm finding myself trying to finish a number of old blog topics that I've wanted to write about. Hard to believe, but about 7 months ago, I was in SE Asia, and of course trying lots of new foods. I was recommended to go to Sri Paandi, an Indian banana leaf restaurant in Petaling Jaya. Apparently, it's very popular with people living in the area

From the outside, it looks like a typical Indian restaurant in Malaysia, and it gets better...

As you enter, they had some deliciously looking fried items, like vadas and such at the entrance...

It's pretty straightforward, you sit down, you get a banana leaf with rice, then these guys start coming around with various curries, sambar, and if you want, you can order additional fish/meat curries. In my case, I tried to get a bit of chicken, some veg curries, and pappadum on the side.

This guy (the "boss"), was very friendly and funny too, giving me this special hat so that I could be the "raja" of the restaurant

S and her family were either still full from our last meal, or weren't so interested in Indian dishes because it was too spicy, so they got some roti and naan instead, which were equally good!

We ordered for 4 people
  • 1x banana leaf rice
  • 1x goreng puyuh (?? fried quail?)
  • 2x naan
  • 1x mango lassi
  • 3x teh ais
 Total Cost: RM34 / USD10

Final verdict: tasty, hilarious experience wearing the special hat. Place is a little bit out of the way, I think you need a car or taxi to get there.

Restoran Sri Paandi
Petaling Jaya

Monday, August 27, 2012

Day in the Life - Antwerp

After over a year here, I've been taking the time to reflect on how things have really changed / progressed for me. I still remember arriving, very new, not knowing where anything was, still getting lost in the hospital... to today, where I know where everything is at, I feel comfortable getting anywhere, and have developed great friendships with the team here. It's something I can really feel proud about, growing from nothing to everything that I've built over the past year

To help me remember my time here, I thought I'd do a series about "day in the life", starting with my trips to Antwerp from Amsterdam. Although I lived in Amsterdam, I also had to cover Antwerp. Depending on my schedule, I'd rent a car for longer trips, or take the train for shorter trips.

1. By luck / chance, I happened to get an apartment near Amsterdam Lelylaan, which is only 5 minutes away by bike from my house. From here, there are frequent trains to Schiphol, and within 10 minutes, I'm at the airport. Such a strange feeling, biking to the train station, and arriving within 10 minutes to one of the largest international airports in Europe!

Amsterdam Lelylaan, with typical Dutch summer weather

2. Arrive in Schiphol, which has a fantastic train station connected with the airport, where I transfer onto the Thalys, the high-speed train to Antwerp. And it's seriously fast, I think like 180 km/h, so that's maybe 120 mph? If I'm hungry at Schiphol,  I always loved stopping by the Delifrance to get a sausijzenbroodje (sausage filled pastry.. totally unhealth) and a warme chocomel met slagroom (hot chocolate with cream...) Guess if I'm already going unhealthy, might as well do it all at once. =)
Schiphol plaza

3. One hour later, arrive in the beautiful Antwerpen Centraal station. There's usually wifi on the train, but it's so unreliable, especially with all the tunnels between Amsterdam and Antwerp. And besides, when I'm going to Antwerp, it generally means a sleep study, so I try to get as much rest as possible where-ever I can..

And - that reminds me of another story, the dangers of not getting enough sleep.. I once had to go to Antwerp right after a sleep study in Amsterdam, with only 2 hours of sleep, and I had all of my photography equipment with me to make a training video. Normally, when I traveled to Antwerp, I just brought a backpack for a daytrip, but this time, I had my suitcase.

I stepped off the train, almost right under the sign below, and started walking towards the escalator, when I realized... WHERE'S MY LUGGAGE! I had left it on the train!! And the Thalys stop isn't more than a few minutes. In huge panic, I ran back to the train, told the train attendant that my luggage was still onboard, she told me to quickly search since they had to leave soon. And in such a panic, I completely forgot which coach I was sitting in, and was running like a a crazy man going thru all the carriages, trying to find my luggage. Eventually I did find it, but that was a close call. Would have been terrible if I didn't get it on time, all my equipment, probably ending up in Paris (the final destination). Later on, this also happened to one of my colleagues, and the Thalys staff actually radio'd ahead to have the luggage brought offboard and locked up for retrieval.... but that was a close call. Note: make sure to always have some business card or contact info on your luggage!

Arrival in Antwerpen Centraal via Thalys
4. After arriving in Antwerp, I usually called my taxi-guy, Issah. It's so funny how we first met, I just chose a random taxi from the station, and got this native English-speaking Ghananian (ie, from Ghana) guy, and we just struck up a great relationship. He knows where to pick me up, always takes my calls, keeps me updated on Belgian and Ghana news, and a guy I could always trust. The 2nd time I was in Antwerp after meeting him, I had planned to call him ahead of time, but didn't have a chance... and when I went to the taxi rank, guess who I found first in line? Issah again!

5. UZA unfortunately is really far away from the center of Antwerp, so that's why I had to take a taxi. I initially tried going there with buses, but it just took too long. It's so far out of the city, they have chickens running around. (ok, it's only about 15 mins away, but it's funny to find chickens running around)

Chickens in front of UZA (University Hospital Antwerp)

6. Then, I head into my "home", the sleep lab. The staff there have been so nice to me, and so funny too. I've enjoyed hearing about one tech's travels to the US, how she loves travelling to the west, to the research co-ordinator, who sometimes "camps" overnight inside the hospital, since he has to be back in the morning, and it's easier to sleep in the hospital than to fight traffic going home. Amazingly, they have like 10 rooms, with 1-2 sleep techs the entire night. With 2 monitors per room, all mounted on the wall, it gets super-hot in that room! I think in the winter, we'd even open a window to keep the room cool enough!


And that's a typical night in Antwerp, another 6-7 hours at night in the sleep lab, then a very drowsy taxi/car ride back to my hotel, where I crash for the next 5-6 hours, then back to Amsterdam!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Emergency dentist visit

A few weeks ago, I had my first interaction with the Dutch healthcare system. I woke up one day to a mild toothache, in a tooth that I've previously had problems and a previous root canal. Like all things, I decided to wait it out a bit longer, except it got painfully worse the second day. By that time, I thought, better call a dentist. But how? I had no idea how the Dutch dental system worked

Luckily, after talking with a few other Americans here, and Dutch colleagues, I found that the system supports both insured and non-insured (self-pay) patients, in my case, that would be me.

But - one might ask, how does it work for non-insured patients? Interestingly, the dentist I go to (and apparently other dentists here) publish all their prices! What an amazing concept - people in the US talk about wanting a more competitive healthcare market, but when have you ever seen prices listed, even for a dentist? (see pricelist from my NL dentist here)

I chose Tenden Tandaartsen based on a recommendation from an INSEAD classmate, and a nice location near the Leidseplein. A surprisingly pleasant experience. Very clean/modern looking waiting room, new digital x-ray and EMR equipment, English speaking assistants and dentists, and interestingly, a separate room for every patient. Totally unlike the US dentists, where everything is in the open, the only thing blocking your chair from the next is usually a bookcase, and you can hear the equipment or discussions with the patient next to you, etc. When I told my Dutch colleagues about this, they were completely shocked, apparently, European privacy rules would never allow a setup like that.

So - the total cost for an emergency visit, x-ray, and diagnosis? EUR90. That's probably cheaper than a self-pay cleaning visit in the US! Cleaning vists here: typically EUR30-50! The reason prices are lower are twofold: first, there's clear price competition, since prices are listed for patients, and the only government intervention is that there is a clear maximum price, but no subsidy. One might think that with a price cap, that would drive away dentists, but apparently, the maximum price is still high enough that there's enough dentists around town that can make a decent living. It's a "managed competition" environment. Furthermore, the choice between self-pay or insured gives people a choice based on their own needs. For regular cleaning and small things, it doesn't make sense to buy any dental insurance.

And the diagnosis - apparently, when my root canal was previously done, the dentist didn't do a correct job of removing all of the root, so there was some residual nerve that was being inflammed by a sinus infection. Very clear on the x-ray that there was 3mm root remaining. Grr - I hate it when people just don't do their job right. Luckily, watching/waiting worked more, and it just went away, with some help of ibuprofen.

In either case, a pleasant experience with the Dutch system, and a good model of where basic dental care could go if the market were truly competitive.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Discovering Turkey Part 1

After reading in the EatingAsia blog about Turkey, the culture, history, and food, I've recently become fascinated with traveling around that region. Luckily, a few months ago, one of my Turkish INSEAD classmates invited me and another classmate to go exploring in Cappadocia, a place I had never heard about. I realized that I really didn't know much about the region. Growing up, most people study about Istanbul, maybe you hear abit about Ephesus, but after this trip, I learned that there's so much to see in Turkey, and that it's really felt like discovering a new place and country.

After getting the invitation from Erdem (my classmate), my first place to look was to study the wikipedia entry on Cappadocia. After seeing the pictures, I was totally hooked on going, and what better way than to go with a Turkish classmate that knows his way around.

Getting there was a bit complicated - I had to get to Ankara, in central Turkey, and then meet with my classmates, then drive another 2-3 hours into the Cappadocia region. I took the red-eye from Amsterdam on Turkish airlines to Istanbul.... and it's always a good sign when they call your name before boarding, because I got an free upgrade (!!) on the AMS-IST segment. That's the 2nd time it's happened to me on Turkish Airlines and particularly nice when you're taking the red-eye. It's more like US domestic coach, but they just block the middle seat and you have nicer meals. And I could at least get some sleep, since we left AMS around midnight, and the flight was 3.5 hours long.

"first" class seats on TK, with middle seat blocked

TK's meals, both in F and Y, are always tasty

Once arriving to IST at 3am, I had a 4-5 hour layover, since I wanted to take the same morning segment from IST-Ankara as my Turkish friends. Made my way into the TK lounge, and surprisingly, walked in without anybody checking my credentials. I somewhat knew that my Star Alliance silver status didn't include lounge entry on partners, but thought I'd try to sneak in with my F boarding pass, and nobody checked. That was nice - since I could actually sleep for a bit. But, I actually ran into a problem when exiting the lounge. Apparently, in IST, one can depart directly from the lounge to a bus that takes you to your gate. I didn't know this, so when I left the lounge and asked them how to get to my gate, they told me "there's a bus from here, just go back into the lounge". But, I couldn't get back into the lounge because I didn't have a Star Alliance Gold status, so I had to walk to the terminal. (no big loss, but a bit funny...)

I met my friends in IST in the morning, and then we ran into a bit of problems as TK was undergoing a strike, and our flight to Ankara was running a bit late, but not too bad, 30 mins or so. After arriving in Ankara, we immediately rented a car, and started our long drive to Cappadocia.

The landscape in that part of Turkey was really striking - a rocky, huge expanse, dry looking, but you'll see some farmers and goats/lamb herders. The highway is well-maintained, but fairly empty except for some big freight trucks and small passenger cars. However, there's still a bit of an "eastern" mentality as you get further out from the major areas, as my classmate was always stopping to ask for directions, and people would tell you directions to a nearest landmark, and you'd have to re-ask once arriving at that landmark.

A few interesting sights: an older Turkish lady, all covered up, but still working in the fields, gave me the impression that these were really hard working people. And, on the side of the road, you'll see these merchants, selling nuts and other dried fruit. Interesting fact - the hazelnut that you often see in chocolates, is actually originally Turkish .

And - my other "sign" of an eastern mentality, was how people thought of food. It really reminded me of traveling throughout Singapore / Malaysia, where everybody had an opinion of food, and could tell you where to go. After buying a few dried fruits and nuts from this roadside vendor, my friend asked where we should get lunch, and got a recommendation down the road. When we arrived, it was just a small roadside restaurant, with indoor and outdoor seating, and the food was really great. Turkish "quick-service" restaurants typically have a few set dishes pre-prepared: some type of kofte (elongated meatball), vegetables (usually peppers, eggplant, zuchhini, etc), rice pilaf, and of course bread.
Turkish roadside restaurant

That's where I was first introduced to izmir kofte, incredibly tasty beef/lamb kofte in a tomato sauce. And this was generally true of most of the restaurants that we went to throughout Turkey - all of them had great food, everything seemed freshly prepared, there's a lot of care to have fresh vegetables along side the dish. Also, I didn't yet notice any mass commercialization, even in the large cities. And of course, meals were very affordable, a nice dinner might be EUR15 or so, but typical good dinner might be EUR10.

Izmir Kofte

And after a few hours more driving, we finally arrived in Cappadocia. It was an incredible view, an old town, completely cut out of rock. You would see this huge plain, with these "stone hills", and evidence that people have carved out cave homes from them, and have lived there for centuries. It was almost like seeing something out of Smurfs! We had booked a fantastic hotel, Hotel Ahbap Konagi, run by a French / Turkish couple. They've renovated a number of rooms that had a fantastic view of the hills / caves on their outdoor terrace.

View of the Cappadocia area

On our first night there, we sat outside on the terrace, talking about old times in the dark, with a view of the hills, and sounds of Turkish music from the nearby houses. It was one of those "moments" when you realize you're in a new, strange place, and there's a sense of wonder, that you can't believe you're actually there. And I was, completely amazed, and so glad that my Turkish friend had invited me to this place, someplace I'd never heard of before!
View from our hotel at night

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Queen's Day and the beginning of summer

Wow, it's been so busy here, I can't believe i haven't posted since February. It's finally summer, and it all started with Queen's Day, on April 30th. We were incredibly lucky for the weather - it was clear and warm! (and strangely, the Sunday before, and the Tuesday after worth both miserable days...)

A little history about Queen's Day: it's probably the biggest public holiday in the Netherlands, celebrating the birthday of the last Queen (since the current's Queen's birthday is sometime in winter!). Everybody wears orange clothes (the official name of the Dutch royalty is the House of Oranje (orange), which is related to William of Orange in the UK, for those who remember their European history, who became King William (with Queen Mary) in England)

First, celebrations start with Queen's night, where lots of bands are playing, and people are already out partying, having fun, dressed in funny hats and anything orange, and buildings are decorated with Dutch flags and red/white/blue stripes. 

Queen's day is a huge celebration, especially in Amsterdam. Everybody is outside wearing orange! Who knew that clothing companies would even make that many clothes in that color! (maybe only for people in NL?)

Also, one of the unique things about Queen's Day: is that she grants free permission for anyone to sell things openly. It's like a fun garage sale, people are selling their old clothes, records, home-cooked food, etc. People will even mark/reserve their spots on the pavements even days before Queen's Day

And, although this year the bands were mainly moved outside of the city center, there's still lots of music, especially in the floating barges/boats that are travelling around the canals, with their own DJ's, and pumping out loud dance music...(check out the YouTube video...)

Luckily, I came equipped with my Dutch/German week orange INSEAD polo-shirt, and Douwe-Egberts (local Dutch coffee company) was giving out these fantastic orange fedoras to complete my Queen's Day outfit.

The Dutch were really festive, and it was something comparable to Carnival in Den Bosch. It's an interesting comparison, because I think people in North Holland particularly like their regels (rules), and it's funny to see for 1 day, all the regels are disregarded... and very quickly, by the end of Queen's Day, the streets are being cleaned, and everything is back in order by the following day! So rRemarkably efficient, as if the rules can only be "broken" for only one day, but then everything needs to be back in order!

It was a great and hilarious experience, thanks to my INSEAD and hospital friends for making the day special! Definitely worth coming back to NL just for the experience...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Macau, the other Las Vegas

During my SE Asian grand tour a few weeks ago, I took advantage of a long layover in HK (~12hours) to make a quick side-trip to Macau. Macau was previously a Portugese colony, and even back in the colonial days, it was famous for casinos, but they were small places, and I remember seeing one when we visited as a family in the early 2000's

The main (and biggest at the time) Macau casino in 2003, Casino Lisboa

But now.. wow. A few years ago, a number of Las Vegas resorts started building huge resorts - the Venetian, the Wynn... from the outside, it even looks like Vegas, except when you go inside and don't find any slots, or rarely blackjack, but tons of tables playing baccarat, and finding not burgers/pizza in the food court, but fried rice, Chinese bbq, etc. What a strange experience. Apparently, gambling revenues (and profitability) in Macau a few years ago have exceeded Las Vegas. Unbelievable. Sometimes I find it ironic that Asians are "well-known" for good math skills, but somehow, there's a "co-morbidity" towards gambling.

Despite what you might think, this is NOT Las Vegas

It's called the "Cotai Strip", with the Wynn, MGM, etc....

The interiors of some of these casino hotels are amazing, huge chandeliers, aquariums, everything you'd expect from Las Vegas like excess. What's also interesting is the staff you find in the hotels... they must be hiring models for eye-candy. (and holy cow, they were all really tall) Similarly, there were Indian security staff, Filipino dealers and casino attendants, etc.

Overall, an interesting day trip from Hong Kong airport. It's really interesting to see how the casinos have changed Macau. There is still a bit of the shady feeling from the old casino days, but with the large resorts, it seems more "legit", although I'm sure there's still some shadiness that's always lurking around the corner. Singapore has recently allowed 2 casinos, I wonder how much if it will change in the next few years if they allow more.

If you have a long layover in Hong Kong, it's worth the trip. Costs about $30-40 RT to Macau from HK Airport via high-speed ferry. Make sure when you arrive that you don't go to your transfer gate, or don't go through HK immigration. There's a special area that allows you to go directly to Macau without passing thru HK immigration. The boats leave directly from HK airport to Macau Taipa ferry terminal.

One might ask - anything special to eat in Macau? My answer: Macau-style egg tarts! So delicious, and you can even find them in the Venetian! And cheap too, HKD$8, or about US$1.25 or so per piece.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fun with Dutch Numbers

It's interesting to see how different languages deal with numbers.

I was at the immigration department on Friday, sitting and waiting for my number, #49, and in Dutch, it's said "negenenviertig ", or nine and forty, and this system is used for numbers greater than 20, but numbers less than 20 are similar in English (zestien = 16).

I find it strange how these two systems developed.. it reminds me of "big-endian" or "little-endian" systems from engineering. Do you put the larger number on the left side (as it is in English: twenty-one = 2 tens and then 1), or do you put the smaller numbers on the left (as it is in Dutch/German: negenentwentig, nine and then 20)

I once asked a Dutch colleague, when they writing down numbers that they hear on the phone, like negenentwentig, do they write it like it sounds (writing backwards, first then 9, then putting a 2 in front of it), because that's what I end up doing when I hear numbers and have to write them down.

Her answer: no, we just hear the whole number, and then write it.

Our brains must be so flexible to store numbers in different ways, it makes for funny mistakes when have to write a number I hear in Dutch from right-to-left, or when my Dutch colleagues tell me numbers in English but sometimes forget to switch the order.

I wonder why the system in English switches at 20? In English, numbers between 10-20, we say the 1 digit first, then "teen", but greater than 20, we say the 10's digit first, then the 1'st digit?

But in Germanic languages, it's always the one's digit first, then the 10's digit later, until you get to 100, then it's the 100 digit first, then the one's digit, followed by the 10's digit!!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ice skating at De Lierhof / Ijsschaatsen op De Lierhof

As you may have read, most of Europe, including Amsterdam, has been under an unusual winter freeze. It's been below freezing for over a week, and the canals have now frozen over.

In fact, the canal outside of my apartment has gone from a boat dock to frozen solid, and some people have made a makeshift ice skating rink!

Interestingly, these frozen canals are something very special for Amsterdammers, because now you see people skating on the canals! Apparently, this hasn't happened for over 10 years, and there's a huge discussion on whether a special race, the Eleven City Tour or "Elfstedentocht" will be held, something that only happens when the canals freeze. Apparently, it's over a 250km ice skating race, and officials are concerned whether the ice will support 16,000 people skating on the ice. I wonder if this is all overblown, especially when Minnesotans drive their car on the ice!

Pretty cool that when the canals freeze, you have a "skating highway" throughout all the various Dutch cities!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Minnesota weather in NL

Update: HUGE snowstorm in NL today... probably 3-4 inches of snow. 850km of hughways throughout the are jammed due to snow. Despite this, people are STILL BIKING!

Just came back to NL after a vacation in SE Asia, and whew, it's cold here! It's like Minnesota weather... 20F (-10C), meanwhile, I hear that it's fairly warm back home in MN

I remember once telling Sen that walking in the cold (ie, below freezing) is no problem. BUt after biking a few blocks yesterday in that weather.. whew, it's COLD!

Who knows, either SE ASia reset my temperature expectations, or there's a big difference between the short walk from your car to the office vs. biking outside in below freezing weather.

btw - I arrived in NL from SE Asia with only a fleece... good thing I packed a jacket in my luggage which was completely useless while in SE Asia...

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Back to the NL, and soap...

Happy New Years - I'm back to NL after a too-short visit back to the US. Strangely, seems like forever that I was back in the US, but also seems too short. It's a very strange feeling to have multiple homes.

I had this realization today after arriving at the airport that Amsterdam is feeling very familiar. It's so strange to go on a long flight, wake up in a new place, which seems strange and familiar at the same time. Especially when 3 places seem "home" to me - whether it's in Ohio where I grew up, in MN where I've been living, or NL where I've been working.

This particularly makes things complicated when people ask me now, "Where do you live?" or "Where are you from?". It usually goes something like "Well, I'm living in the NL now, but my actual home is in Minnesota, where I work, but I'm from Ohio". By then, most people have a really confused look on their face. Guess there's no simple answer for that question. I'm sure lots of international students in the US or even college students who study in a different state probably have similar identity crises, or even Americans posted overseas too. I wonder how long does it take for somebody to change their answer from where they grew up as a child as "Home" to where they're living as "home. Maybe it takes life-events like the birth of a child, or marriage, or just many years before people identify a new place as "home".

And in a random comment - I was thinking how some things I do in my house are still very "American". For example, bath soap. It's much more common in Europe to use bath gel instead of soap bars. However, I still prefer the soap bar. But - since soap bars aren't common here, it's difficult to find things like soap dishes! I had to import that one from the US.

Then - I was thinking - with the water being quite hard here (lots of calcium), soap bars don't lather up very well. Maybe that's why bath gel is more common? Would be interesting if that was a local adaptation to the water conditions here.

Any thoughts on soap from my readers? And welcome any comments on the thoughts about what defines "home"?