Why I Come Here

If you need a holiday not very far away from KL- you should sneak away to this corner of calm. Now making 60% of its profits off FNB, this is a very, very special place. Why? Because those who service it know that it is an odd duck.

What you need to know about this Shang is that the building is not built-for-purpose. Originally meant to be a transit home for Putrajaya employees, a little bird tells me that Tun Mahathir, at the time personally reached out to Tan Sri Robert Kwok – and had him adopt this under the brand.

No other hotel chain was interested. None wanted the challenge of a service kitchen originally meant for government employees – not outfitted with 5-star amenities. Or a hotel tucked deep inside meandering lake-garden style grounds – far away from the city bustle.

Why did I choose it? Because it is gorgeous. Classically-styled. You might chase the sunset, just watching it from behind the large glass windows in the lounge. It’s architecture is unique. You feel like you’re on a ship. It is low-rise. There is so much natural light. The plants are selected carefully, the carpark is a beauty in itself. I hesitate to talk about the swooping songbirds about the property at 8am, lest I stray from the point of my review – which is: it isn’t everything you might expect from a Shang, but by gods, is it uniquely comfortable. You step into a time-sphere the moment you turn into the premises.

As I hinted at, it has its faults which I’ll happily launch into – but first, take my word for it – the staff here care. More so than any hotel I’ve travelled to. It’s prompted me to jump into TripAdvisor reviews, for Pete’s sake. The eye-contact and genuine curiosity is surprisingly un-Malaysian, yet you feel they are this way because they trust each other. It’s home to them.

They anticipate your needs; they are trained and they are responsive – with a touch of joy. They truly like it here. One usually encounters this on beach resorts, if ever (and for me, only in the 90s). Few, if any, were grumpy or troubled. It is a sign of a well-run household where they love what they do. The Marriott, The KL Hilton, The Majestic – none can hold a candle to the efficiency and warmth (never overbearing) I have felt here. I feel they hire very carefully. I am so damned relieved for it because there is a shortage of this sensitivity in hospitality (dare I grumble again?).

The cons: You can tell there’s water damage in some places, even the exterior. It’s a damp place. And that some things are a little wobbly, like the long bath handles. Food is decent, especially local fare – but don’t set the bar too high here. Your breakfasts will be pleasant – service is the very best, but you can sort of tell that the kitchen may not be best suited to task. Having said that, there is a bounce in everyone’s step and one’s requests, however unusual, aren’t countered with anything but a desire to understand. There’s no nervous laughter or lack of confidence here. Answers. My goodness. Actual answers, whether in BM or English. If you have any questions, I recommend you speak to Suresh, an old hand, who has plenty of experience and is so very thoughtful.

I tell you, there are nooks and crannies for everyone. The relaxation room near the pool. The beautiful tiles outside the Palm Hill Cafe. The walk to the carpark, even. It is quiet and alive at the same time. And the people? Baffling. Feels like I was stuck in the 90s before people relied on phones and actually knew how to deal with themselves/others.

Saiful has insight into room choice, and understands exactly why the space is unique, as well as the direction it needs to go in. Amira, at check-in, is a joy and quick to offer options. If you’re a Golden Circle member, NorSarena, quick on her feet, will sort you/ any questions. Marzuki on logistics outside the lobby is perceptive, and actually takes the extra effort to suggest locations for a walk, speaking directly to the buggy driver to ensure I could be dropped off for a walk and picked up promptly. (Driver – I had Izan, who was willing to go the extra mile to let me peek at the grounds. He was so tickled that he could help me enjoy myself more. Gosh.)

I’m sure it’s very obvious to you that I love the service industry and that I spend a lot of time observing and dreaming up suggestions and ideas. (1) There are things I will put up with if I feel the staff are trying and are resources (2) I am sitting in the lobby of this Shang long after check out just because I can. With a glass of ice water which they asked me if I wanted. By name. These things count.

I do not come across spaces like this often. I would come back here in a heartbeat, and I am fussy. Very. It may be imperfect but to me, it hits the spot.

It’s gorgeous for families. Special. Bring your team here – especially if you’re in marketing or communications or anything that requires human connection. Let them understand how – when it’s done right – a place, a service, a product can hum at just the right note, and people will come back for more.

So come here. Gardens, more tea than you can dream of, view, people, heart. Sunlight.

Come here.


Art I Obviously Found on Etsy

I have a few art pieces here for you that you can actually purchase if you like. Some are rather inexpensive. Etsy puts me in these imaginary redecorating moods, you know what I mean? Tell me what you think. I’ll tell you what I think now, then ^_^

I suppose this has absolutely nothing to do with my Catwoman obsession. Warm painting, cold eyes? I can’t quite decide. Print from The Black Apple, who ships from Portland, Oregon.

In Justice League : Doom, the Flash had to run into an iceberg to detonate a bomb on his wrist, and he got quippy about it with Bats. We all know how fun it is when anyone gets quippy with Batman. Looking at icebergs make me reflective, and a little sad. I think of ice shelves melting, breaking off due to global warming. And sinking ships. But more importantly, I love the misty, nebulaic view of this iceberg. Almost friendly, but mildly morose as well. Like a cream-coloured Eeyore. This gorgeous print is from Jeremy Miranda who ships from Dover, New Hampshire.

Claire Elsaesser seems to be making quite a wave on Pinterest with her portraits. Figures, oft alone but sometimes paired, faces obscured, but so strongly coloured with feels that you just sense her genius. I feel very cloudy and grey, and just short of despairing when I look at her work. This here is an abstract that does just the same. Don’t think I’ve ever found an artist whose work I could imagine rotating throughout a house. There’s a bubbling sense of starkness, but a glimmer of reaching out. Just enough to make it unobtrusive – and I’d say this about her figure work as well. I know the colours in this piece are on trend at the moment, but it’s Scandinavian enough in its sensibilities for me to say this will stand the test of time. Both the original and the print are available from Claire who ships from Inverness, California.

à bientôt

xx ash

Disclaimer: These images are from each Etsy page that I’ve mentioned and linked within the text above. 

Audioweaving Is A Thing

You know me. I’m always in the mood for some rather meta ‘Eternal Sunshine’ paint-me-a-picture-of-your-soul visualisations. Dirk Petzold of We and the Colour shows us these pieces by Slovenian designers Just and Koncan – of individuals’ brainwaves when listening to a song for the first time.

Check the rest of these gorgeous works of art out here.

The two Slovenian designers Črtomir Just and Matej Koncan teamed up with BlackBox to create this series of posters for Braindance (Ples možganov), a neuro-art project dedicated to bridge the gap between science and art. Goal of the project was to visualize the differences in people’s response to music they heard for the first time. The brainwaves of 20 volunteers were measured while listening to a musical piece made especially for this occasion by kleemar. [via We and the Colour]

Each subject had a different colour pallete, so make sure you see the rest. Take care, now.


Disclaimer: These images are from We and the Colour‘s post and I’m so grateful to be inspired by their good taste. The original images are from the artists mentioned above. If you’re into art and design, I’m pretty darned sure you won’t regret subbing to WatC – and following the artists on Behance. 

Meg and Noisli

Meg being PerfectFirst, Meg. For being perfect. Must show her off. via her brilliant, brilliant illustrator Ken Duncan


Noisli is this wonderful thing because it changes colour. And it lets you listen to the wind. The leaves. Not just the rain and the water. It’s calming. It’s audiophilic heaven because it’s high quality and… it makes me feel like I’m floating.

I know I’ve been quiet. I’ve been to Melbourne and Auckland recently. Let’s just say I’ve been busy living. How are you?

x a

Ginger Spice Takes Malaysia


This palm sugar ginger cake turned out beautifully.
Last week, 3-4 days after I made it, I pierced through it with a toothpick in a grid configuration, and poured an apple juice – cognac mixture over it. Will do this again next month. Hopefully by Christmas this will taste as amazing as it smells.

This is a moist, dense cake. Don’t expect it to be docile, my ducks. Things that are worth it seldom are.

Image : hwayoungjung

Recipe is inspired by Delia’s Jamaica Ginger Cake, and well, I miss McVitie’s Jamaica Ginger Cake a lot. Had it loads for tea in Wales.

Says McVitie’s:

“There’s no mystery as to why our Jamaica Ginger Cake is so popular however. Rich, moist, and expertly baked, it’s the delicious blend of secret spices and ginger, which makes for such a distinctive flavour. Its sticky texture means you may fight over who gets to scrape the paper liner but it’s brought slices of happiness to generation after generation!”

Re: Jamaica, let’s not talk about how I secretly want to live on an island. Forever.


Let’s start by explaining that I used fresh ginger. In the British style, and in most gingerbread/cake recipés, they use ginger powder. I’m thinking, hello, TTDI market helps me out in this department with the tumbuk rempah aunty filling RM1, 2, 3 tupperwares with any aromatic you can think of.

IMG_8045Butter and dust a 9-inch round baking tin with flour. Preheat your oven for 180C.

IMG_2215I didnt want to use sugar, treacle or golden syrup. So, get your hands on some good gula melaka. You know it’s good when it’s a little fudgy at room temp. Not rock hard. Like Fauziah Abdul Karim‘s (whose story begins in the dodol industry and is v.interesting!).


  • Sift 175g cake flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 3 tsps (1 tbsp) cinammon powder together. Your butter is salted, right? If it isn’t, add a pinch of salt now to the dry ingredients.


  • Measure out 225g gula melaka, melt with 3 tbsp water in a saucepan, low heat.
  • Add 75g butter to the pan. (I hope you used the wrapper to grease the baking tin).
  • Turn off heat, add 1 heaped tbsp raw ginger. Stir in. You’ll smell a toasty ginger smell bordering on savoury. Don’t worry. This isn’t the only ginger flavour profile we’re playing with.

Now comes the assembly part. Fun.

Fold about half of A into B. Use a rubber spatula, work in slicing motions, cleaning the sides of the bowl as you go. Don’t go mad stirring. You don’t want the gluten in the flour to activate and go postal on your cake, making it stiff.


  • Add 1 egg.
  • Add 2 tbsp of the ginger.

Stir. Gently. Add the rest of A.


Pour into tin, slide into the oven. Turn the heat down to 150-160C.

Check the cake after 30 minutes. Toothpick clean? No? Check every 10 minutes.

Once your toothpick comes out almost clean, turn off the heat (leave the fan on, if you can) and let the cake cool in the oven.

Remove the cake. Should come out easily, if you’ve dusted properly, and let it cool enough because it pulls back from the sides when it shrinks.

Poke the cake (about 1/2 way through)  in a grid pattern (5mm apart) with a toothpick or skewer, and pour over 3 tbsp cognac + 3 tbsp apple juice (or 6 tbsp cognac neat if you’re nutso and awesome). Wrap the thing in cling, let rest for half a day, then chuck in the fridge.

A month later, let warm to nearly room temp, repeat the poke and pour (on the other side of the cake). Pop back in fridge.

Consumption :

I don’t think one would ever want to eat this cold. Bring to room temp before consumption. Personally, I’d nuke the thing for a minute and have it with a cup of milky tea, maybe Earl Grey (citrus, yey.)

This is what’s in the McVitie’s version, by the way:

Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Wheat Flour, Water, Sugar, Vegetable Fat, Humectant (Sorbitol), Emulsifier (E471), Dried Whey, Colour (Plain Caramel), Milk Protein, Wheat Starch, Raising Agent (Sodium Bicarbonate), Stabiliser (Guar Gum), Dried Whole Egg, Wheat Protein, Salt, Preservative (Potassium Sorbate), Ginger Flavouring.


Enjoy, y’alls. And here’s to a rockin’ end of 2013!



Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap


Perpetuating the illusion of snow. Done beautifully.
A set, utilised to the very most. Done beautifully.
Caricature characters. Done really, really beautifully.
A script that both held water paired with direction that brought the wit inherent to life.
Done just seamlessly.
An intimacy and warmth brought on by true mastery and comfort on the stage.

Well. It is the Mousetrap.

Summary (via nuffnang, one of the sponsors): 

It is the winter of 1952 and seven people are stranded by a snowstorm at Monkswell Manor, a remote country guest house, cut off from the roads and from the phone. A policeman, Sergeant Trotter, manages to reach the house to warn them there has been a murder at a nearby farmhouse but, no sooner has he given his warning then, suddenly, an elderly guest is murdered. There are only six of them remaining and those six realise the truth – that one of them in the house is the murdererFinally Sergeant Trotter believes he knows which of the six is the killer and he calls them together to set a trap which will reveal the identity of the murderer – but who is it and can he or she be found in time, before another murder is committed?

There was immense trouble in getting to Auditorium DBKL : the rain did not help with traffic although it lent to being in the snowed-in set beautifully. Waze and Maps sent us to Wisma Sime Darby. Thankfully we managed to get there in time due to some frenzied phone conversations that sounded like : “come back to Dataran!” and “It’s that great big white ugly building with the very ugly windows’. Then of course when we saw there was a Secret Recipe downstairs, we were a little sated. Parking was free. #ithadbetterbeafterallthattrouble

The kitschily top-hatted front-of-house staff were a little green: a few individuals were truly sweet and obliging, some hurried people along during intermission a little insensitively with a “we’re running out of time” despite the RM234 ticket price warranting a shade of grace and aplomb, for heaven’s sake.

Christie Books-01

There is something to be said for the killing Borders tried to make selling Poirot books out front. No highlighting of “Three Blind Mice and Other Stories”, the book on which the Mousetrap was based.

Image : Agatha Christie’s Screenplay (adapted from the short story)

I take that as a disappointing inability to pay attention, to engage with the literary types that attended the play (laughed at subtle witticisms, phones were mostly on silent) – and a sign of a lack of interest. You’re a international bookstore. Talk about Dame Agatha. Talk about her literary works. Show us that you care about what you do. One wonders why you had to be so inert? Instead of being a bastion for literacy, Borders Malaysia, you made it very obvious you wanted a low-cost way to move stock. This could have been your coming out party.

IMG_8998Image – Instagram : House lights in Auditorium DBKL

The soundtrack was used to great effect. ‘Whodunits’ and such are often cheesy, riddled with bad sound effects, hollow and unfeeling. I really enjoyed the audio set-up – the lack of crispness served the production well. I don’t know too much about audio-tech, but they took a full house into consideration and the volume and settings were spot on (for me – perhaps a proper audio engineer might think differently).

The women were splendid, and played their feisty, strong, vulnerable parts with consistently good energy. Beautiful undertones with the vocal work (they didn’t desperately project).

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And you know, John Faulkner is both one half of British Theatre Playhouse, bringing the play to Malaysia with Milestone Production (who charmingly, perhaps forgot that they may do more than one show, hehe); and Major Metcalfe. A deliciously subtle performance. I should think so. He played Giles on the West End version something like 3 decades ago.

Paravicini (played by Tony Boncza) was a firm, firm favourite of mine. Not least because he’s the most interesting, contrary, complex character who never turned his performance into a farce. Not for a moment.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 1.24.28 PM

Sergeant Trotter, played by Thomas Richardson: brilliant voice work, brilliant physicality. One exchanged knowing looks with female cousins upon realisation that he looks a little like Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) from Downton Abbey.

Well just a wee, wee bit. You’d have to see him with his hair combed and in the outfit.

I shan’t go into trysts about the cast – they were top notch, never felt the need to steal the spotlight, always let the script shine. And I felt comfortable with them. Probably because their performances were not fueled by ego. Something British performers do quite well.

The loveliest thing about the end is what Sergeant Trotter says after the curtain-call.

You’ll find out if you ever watch it.

Verdict : The best play I have seen anywhere with a small cast (under 10).

Tuesday Typists : Five



These poems are part of Tuesday Typists : Maya Stein does 10-line poems every Tuesday.Tuesday Typists is a wonderful secret writing group which Maya prompts with interesting words. This was my response to “five”.
I met Maya and was introduced to her work at Squam Art Workshops, 
New HampshireUSA – Fall 2012.



As a child, one of the tasks I was often handed was to polish my fathers shoes. Brush, then apply polish, then buff. Today, my dad’s beat up old slip-ons looked like they needed some help. So I spent 10 minutes treating them.

Let me just say that my father has more shoes than all four women in this house put together.

IMG_0993 IMG_0994

You can imagine what this looks like inside. Like pasty brown toothpaste. Waxy.

IMG_0992 IMG_0991 IMG_0995 IMG_0989 IMG_0990


I’m thinking I should do more of these posts. My father’s shoes are always full of character, and have many years on them.

from Pinterest : eggs + cake

GD - circle foods

Images from pins of ajitsuke tamago and the world’s best polka-dot cake.
Layout by yours truly, washi tape strips from puglypixel.

Mirin, sake, soy sauce and sugar combined to become a savoury soaking liquid for these barely-firm boiled packets. The liquid flavour infuses into the denseness over time, and you can reheat in a bowl of ramen for warm over-coddled eggs that bring a velvety pillowy-ness to your refuge of a meal.

As for that cake, well, what self-respecting graphic designer wouldn’t want a polka dot cake at least once in one’s life.

‘Til the next post, cariadhs.



Klang Valley

Hello you.

This is a photograph-free post. I’m getting quite tired of visuals.
Especially when they are connected to commercial ventures.
Either way, this is wordy. I’m sure you’re alright with that.

It’s been a strange couple of days.


Today, Henley (the black Merc) stalled. The petrol gauge said I had a little less than half a tank left.

Actuality : running on empty. My luck : I stalled near a bus stop. The car is insured.
Experience : getting towed by a very cool truck.
Scary bit : having to inch my way off it (the big truck – and there was traffic and asphalt) once I’d manoevered hefty Henley on it.
Relief : Henley starting after putting petrol in there. No need for workshops and more metaphorical grease on my hands.

PJ State and Old Town

I had harvested two torch ginger buds yesterday morning. After my morning shake, I picked up a friend. Well, by friend I mean Jeya, a middle-aged lady who treats me like her daughter – met her while having breakfast, and well, I chat to elderly people. They’re much nicer than young people, don’t you know? Jeya is the sort of lady one has tea with, during which one asks after her plants. She happily received the torch ginger buds, saying, “I don’t use these, but my friend does, she makes lots of soups.”

I thought to myself, Jeya must know PJ State and Old Town better than I, sheltered girl. You see, I had three gritty errands to run. I refused internally to go to the shopping malls. I wanted to partake in the fix-it-all nature of the older parts of PJ. I needed to get my shoes stitched up, my leather bag’s zip fixed (Old Town) and I needed to check out a printing shop that would actually do an old school good job and not burn a hole in my pocket (PJ State).

Jeya and I ventured into a part of PJ I had blissfully steered clear of. Old shops. Old businesses. Old everything. The cobbler in front of the post office, chain smoker, peeling lips, said he’d hand stitch my slingbacks. The bag, he said, best you go to the bag-lady at the back. Through an alleyway. A sundry shop where I used my half-past six Tamil to ask for 555 books (a post in itself, really). I discussed the merits of the old design v new design with the old uncle:

“Dulu punya tada tebal. Boleh masuk poket, senang mau bawak. Ini baru punya design manyak keras, tada syok la.”

The bag lady, peeling fingers, hoarse voice, tiny body said : “Ah, this one I charge you 25.”
At which point I withered, wrung my hands, and mumbled something suitably worried-sounding. She said 20. She said she’d replace the zip head, but that wouldn’t work, she’d just stitch it up nice and neat. She said 18. I paid 10. I’d pay the other 8 when I came back for bag. Which is battered and worn but that’s just the way you roll when you have a bag like that. Jeya said, “I come this side every week also to go market. I can pick up for you, sayang.”

I nodded amiably as we ambled back to the car, past this old Mandarin book store. What else could I do but admire the handmade little bookshelves outside, and the leather wrapped compartments. While writing this now, I wonder if I could find me a proper carpenter who would make me a little shelf for my books. “Will it smell of lacquer? And will I see the grooves in the wood? Will it pretend to be old for me?”

On the way back to the car (and the cobbler), Jaya and I had tea and rojak. Not the best that I’d ever had, but I heard a story about a girl who stole a lot of Jaya’s money because she was a good Christian and took her in. I didn’t really understand every bit of it, because Jaya lapses into Tamil beyond my understanding sometimes. But the spirit in which it was told allowed me to sort of scold Jaya for not worrying about herself first.

My slingbacks are firmly stitched now. It looks like ants took over my shoes and decided to fortify them with their own brand of dark magic. I feel very much upgraded. And as though I have the secret of ants on my side. Their hard work creeps up my legs and informs my gait and I feel industrious. Cobblers, real cobblers, are important.

Back to yesterday – After making 3 different rotations around this and that corner of State, I finally pass by the printers (recommended to me by Captain Pete). By some miracle, there is a space for me to wedge Henley into, right in front of a parking meter, but not a proper space. 10 minutes can’t harm me, can it? Not when there is nowhere to put Henley.

Jeya and I walk up to the printing shop, where Cheryl looks plenty busy. But I mention Captain Pete, and all is well. An email address later, I’m traipsing off to illegally-parked Henley.

Pasar Malam at Taman Melawati

So I’ve been to pasar malams before. Mostly a long time ago, but once or twice in Taman Megah. But on Tuesday night, in Taman Melawati, there was so much more. There were vegetables and fish and meat and dried stuff, and fried stuff, and fruit and ohmyword it was so lush.

I’ve been missing out. As much as I love PJ, I think Tuesday nights at Taman Melawati are a thing I’d go there for.

I suppose this is a big deal because since last Thursday at the Swedish Food event of glory, I’ve ventured outside my triangle of Section 17 – Bandar UtamaDamansara Jaya.
Yeay me. And yeay Henley, who has been on E230-style adventures with me. Bless.

I’m glad I told you all this. Why is it easier to go back to England/Wales and walk everywhere all by myself than go to new places in the Klang Valley? Nearest police station. Parking. Triple checking for suspect looking motorcycles. Snatch theft. Windows being smashed in. Being stared at by the staff of each mamak/Indian makan shop you pass.

We are so small and insignificant in the grander scheme of things.
Guess we’ll all just have to be brave, women of Klang Valley.
Go get ’em, harimaus.