The content of each post is solely written by that contributor and only expresses the contributor's personal views. Each post does not represent the views of all the contributors or Women of Color Living Abroad as an organization. Each contributor is speaking from their own person experiences and/or perspective.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dining Out In Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

By Stephanie McCreary

In the sticky heat of the late afternoon I hear the sound of high-pitched Hindi music blasting in invisible swirling coils from crackling speakers of old radios. I see softly strung silken necklaces of yellow and orange marigolds decorating hawker stalls selling everything from DVDs, to jewelry, to handbags to Indian desserts. I am walking through the cobblestone streets of Little India in Georgetown, the capital city of Penang island in Malaysia, checking out Indian restaurants.  Kapitan has the best tandoor breads, Restaurant Meena is South Indian, and Woodlands Restaurant is strictly vegetarian.

The potent aroma of chilies, curry leaves, black peppercorns and cardamom overwhelm my senses, yet I hesitate to eat Indian food here. I live in Oman where it is chock full of Indian expatriates and Indian food. But to eat this cuisine in Malaysia is immersing oneself in an integral part of Malaysian culture. Malaysians of Indian descent make up a sizeable portion of the population of the country, the other two groups being ethnic Malays and Chinese. Many Malaysian Indians are second or third generation and call Malaysia home, much the same way I am an American of African ancestry.

I choose Woodlands Restaurant on 60 Penang Street, well known for its bargain banana leaf lunches. I walk into the cool, dim, air-conditioned establishment and see a space decorated with mirrors framing the perimeter and artwork depicting women dressed in deep purple, red, and fiery orange saris in between each one. I sit down at one of the tables and listen to metal clanging, echoing throughout the room, like bells signaling thali lunchtime. Thalis are metal trays with five or six different compartments for entrees. At Woodlands they are round and deep with a banana leaf cut into a circle that fits perfectly inside accompanied by several small metal bowls.

After perusing the menu, I order the Madras thali unlimited banana leaf meal. About ten minutes later, it arrives at my table looking like a rainbow of healthy vegetarian food.  In the center of the leaf is a heap of white rice, surrounded by an arc of bowls that contain spinach garam dal, puriam, sambar radish, tomato rasam, kulumbu, sundakai onion mix, buttermilk and yogurt with coriander, and payasam.

The spinach garam dal is stewed with yellow lentils and seasoned with garam masala, a mélange of black peppercorns, coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, chilies, and turmeric. The ingredients of garam masala vary by region but in South India, it is often made into a paste with either coconut milk or vinegar, and in North India, it is pure powder. The golden lentils temper the heat of the rich green leaves that although cooked, have retained the slightly crunchy, vibrant taste of fresh spinach. Puriam is a dish made of carrots, green peas and green beans with a peppery zing. All the vegetables are perfectly cooked, but a challenge to eat without biting into a peppercorn. Black pepper is used liberally in many South Indian dishes as Kerala; a state in the southwest of the subcontinent is famous for pepper production. The other dishes in the thali possess varying degrees of flavor from cumin, fenugreek, coriander and cardamom, and the buttermilk and yogurt with coriander is a welcome and cooling accompaniment to smother the fire of the piquant dishes.

Dessert is a sweet, warm soup called payasam with cashews and tiny tapioca balls that float like iridescent pearls to the surface. Spiced with cardamom, the taste is subtle yet festive. To add to the sweet decadence, I order a masala chai and Mysore pak. Most of the time chai is drunk simply as black tea with milk and sugar, but masala chai is for special occasions, and contains some or all of the following: cardamom, black pepper, ginger, cloves and cinnamon. But it is too foamy and more spicy than sweet. The Mysore pak, however, is like a little block of edible gold and doesn’t disappoint. This treat made of chickpea flour, clarified butter, and sugar, is believed to have originated in the town of Mysore, in the South Indian state of Karnataka. Soft, perfectly moist, and just a little crumbly, it melts in my mouth.

The entire meal comes to RM (Malaysian ringgits) 15, about 5 USD. Entree prices range from RM2-10, and both North and South Indian vegetarian food like palak paneer, channa masala and masala dosas rub shoulders on the Woodlands menu. There are a wide variety of hot and cold beverages like hot lemon and ginger tea, rose milk, and pineapple lassis that will only set you back about RM 3. Woodlands is a quality, inexpensive, meat-free place if you’re on the go and seeking a healthy and satisfying meal in Georgetown.

Woodlands Restaurant
Hours: 8:30am-10pm
Address: 60 Penang Street
Fax: 04-261-1868

Monday, November 12, 2012

Post-Holiday Detox

By:  eternitysojourner
Everyone looks forward to a good holiday.  We often return refreshed with stories and pictures to share- our luggage a little heavier and our souls a little lighter. However, sometimes we return with unwanted extra baggage and return home bigger, backed-up, or bloated.  Holidays can be rough on our digestive systems.  Maybe you indulged too much at the dinner buffet, tried new and exotic foods that didn’t agree with you, or simply refused “to go” when nature called.  Whatever the case may be, returning home is a great time to cleanse your system and get your health back on track.  There are many types of cleanses and detox regimens to write about but here are a few tried and true approaches for your internal house-cleaning.

Herbal Cleanse

The use of herbs is probably the easiest way to catch up your elimination routine.  Revolving around the use of laxative and digestive tonics like senna, peppermint, or ginger, your intestines are given the urge to purge and push waste through. If you want to focus on cleansing specific organs, there are herbs for that too!  Your digestive system is the major channel of elimination, but your kidneys, liver, lungs, circulatory system, and skin do a lot of filtering too!  Some herbal cleansing systems take you through a step-by-step process that focuses on a given organ at a given time.  Herbal teas are a gentle way to start but herbal tinctures, extracts, or capsules may pack more punch.  Laxative herbs are generally used temporarily in varying amounts, until you’ve achieved regular bowel movements.  No dietary changes are required but healthier choices can only help!

Elimination Cleanse

If you’re freaked about trying those strange and unusual hippy-dippy herbs at the health food store, then eliminating certain foods may be a more palatable approach.  Removing constipating foods like cheese, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods is a good way to start.  Replacing those said foods with whole grains, fresh produce, and plant-based protein will nourish your system while losing the excess gradually.  In short, this is like adopting a vegan diet, so the results are not instantaneous but you can gradually clear out your system.

Raw Food Cleanse

Raw foods can be potent detoxers.  Chocked full of vitamins, enzymes, and pure fiber, your body can’t help but let go of accumulated impurities in your body!  Raw meals are more than smoothies and salads!  There are nut-based dips, seed-based pates, and filling desserts to make your raw experience tasty and satisfying.  Eating raw plant-based foods can even help enliven dull taste buds that have been saturated with overly salty or sweet foods.  A recalibrated tongue can enjoy the natural sweetness of ripe fruit and the subtle taste of fresh veggies.

Juice Cleanse

Sister to the Raw Food Cleanse, a Juice Cleanse is all that raw goodness in a glass.  A quality extractor is essential for quality juices, especially for dense produce like carrots, apples, and beets- all staples in a juice cleanse.  Some prefer the ease of juicing their fruits and vegetables, as opposed to chopping and prepping them.  Also, juices are so easy to assimilate that your digestive system can literally take a vacation too!  It’s always best to drink your juices freshly-pressed but for the busy, on-the-go folks, you can do large batches of juicing in advance, store your juices in glass jars (filled to the brim or covered in plastic wrap to prevent oxidation), and keep them refrigerated.  A juice cleanse is very potent, so plan your outings appropriately.


Fasting is generally considered a religious rite but can be used for dietary aims, with or without the added spiritual ingredient.  There are varied traditions of fasting but a common theme is abstention.  Abstaining from food and/or drink for a period of time goes beyond giving your system a vacation; it’s a complete hibernation.  The constant work of processing three daily meals, every single day, can be tiring and taxing for the system.  This is why many advocate giving your system an occasional maintenance break to clear out any accumulated waste.  In college, one of my engineering professors from China told me that he didn’t understand why Americans complicate good health.  “It’s a simple mass balance:  Output = Input + Accumulation.  What you don’t eliminate is accumulating in your body”.  My recent herbalism studies attest to the same.  When waste accumulates in your system, this becomes the source of dis-ease.  The waste has to go somewhere if it’s not being eliminated, so it may be forced to accumulate in our arteries or organs until it can be released.  Some advise that a complete fast without water should not exceed 24 hours, but with water, can be done for up to three days. 

For the nuances of how to cleanse, when to cleanse, and for how long, please consult a medical professional, herbalist, or holistic health counselor.  Our bodies are unique, as are their needs.  Some health conditions or predispositions may contraindicate the advice given herein, so be informed, be wise, and be well!  J

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Scared Traveler: Doing what the locals do

I’ve always been a fan of great deals, and if that means getting no sleep to get the best price, I’ll do it. When you are living in a foreign country with language as a barrier and no clue to the ins and outs on how to get a great deal you start thinking to yourself, where in the world should I start? I know not everyone is a savvy shopper nor will asking for help lead you to the right answers. This would make any person that is a savvy shopper go a little crazy to pay regular price for anything. This is exactly what happened to me, but fear not I haven’t gone off the deep end.
My first task at hand was figuring out where to find the bargains. So, I decided to look at where I felt the most comfortable in shopping and that’s for food. I quickly figured out most places offered reward programs to shoppers. Needless to say, I have several rewards cards ranging from grocery stores to ice cream shops. The best part about these cards is they can be used at various stores, they offer free food when you accumulate a certain amount of points, and even send you email coupons. If language has become the barrier use the kindness of others to help you get these handy dandy discount cards. Also, most of the time the person will offer you a chance to sign up for the card.
Once you have figured out shopping in your local area there are questions you may have in regards to travel. Well, traveling can be one of the most rewarding things to happen to anyone living in a foreign country, but the hardest thing is traveling cheaply. Let’s forget the on the “budget" idea. We all want to travel without spending a lot of money. The question you need to figure out is how to go about doing this.  Since the information highway has become the route to everything, this is where you start. First, look at sites you are familiar with (Kayak, Expedia, Orbitz and etc), because you need to do a price comparison among these sites. Also, make sure these sites are available in the language of the country you are living in. One thing I have learned is what is offered on the Expedia Korea and Expedia in America are different. So, keep in mind some knowledge of the foreign language is needed. If all else fails use a translator, it helps.
One important thing is making sure you are aware of all the regional airlines in and out of the country. This is important because there are several deals given by regional carriers at all times. One of the best ways to stay abreast of great travel deals are from Facebook pages and through these companies newsletters. For instance, there was a special free airfare offered through Air Asia from certain cities. For travelers in the know they have already booked these flights. I would suggest frequently checking these sites once a week, because you never know what you may find. Also, this would be a great way of planning a trip, months in advance.
The websites for air travel are mostly through Asia, but you can travel to other parts of the world using a few of these carriers.
When you have booked a ticket at a great price the next thing you would think about is getting a place to stay. I have to admit I have always loved the idea of staying in hotels, and the reason for this is it was all I knew. As you know hotels have stars ranking them from the best to the worst. You will pay for every star that is listed on that hotel, and the higher the star is the more the hotel will cost. As a traveler trying to travel as cheaply as possible, I really don’t want to spend a fortune staying in a hotel. So, I have taken on the mindset of a backpacker. What backpackers do is stay in group living situations or in single rooms in hostels. I know the name can scare you if you saw the movie Hostel, but don’t fret it's nothing like the movie. Hostels have become more than a place to lay your head, but a way to make new acquaintances.
They have become a great place to mix and mingle with other people, while offer an affordable place to stay. They cater to the backpackers and families as well. They offer various style rooms such as group living (6 to four people depending on the hostel), twin (two to three people) and single (1 to 2 people). People who are paying to stay in group living style rooms pay less than twin and single rooms. Also, when staying in hostels you can look at the rooms before committing to sleeping there overnight if you have not booked in advanced.  I will admit you do get what you pay for so if you opt to staying in a $5.00 a night hostel you will get a $5.00 a night hostel. But there are really good hostels that will offer free breakfast or even have a inexpensive restaurant attached to offering a western style menu. They also offer a chance to book tours for various tourist places in the area. Also, hostels can be located in the heart of the city making traveling easier by bus or subway.
365 Hostel in Beijing
Here are a few websites to help you in booking hostels. I recommend reading the information carefully, because they all have rules pertaining to booking on these sites. You can book directly with the hostel if you have their information, and from there you can make changes with the hostel staff. They have their own rules when booking through them as well. Please read the comment section before booking, because it will help in planning your stay in any hostel.

To all my fellow travelers I hope this will help you plan a great trip without spending a fortune.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Alone But Never Lonely: Single And Not Really Mingling Abroad

By:  Brittany S

            Some of you may have heard a little bit of my views on dating abroad during my interview, but here is a little bit more.  I know some are probably thinking, here’s another one of those bitter articles written by someone during “Cuffing Season” that doesn’t have a “Cuff Link.”  This isn’t one of those “#TEAMSINGLELADIES #TEAMINDEPENDENTWOMEN #TEAMIGOTMYOWN #TEAMBADDESTCHICK” type of posts.  Several people have asked me to talk about my dating life, so before you dismiss my views, hear me out! :-)

Thanks Judy Garland.
I don’t think we should work on finding “Mr. Right” when we are not together ourselves.  Even a link won’t stay together if it isn’t complete.  We shouldn’t have holes in ourselves and look for others to fill them.  If I feel something is missing in my life, I need to figure out how to put it there on my own and think of a man as an ADDITION, not COMPLETION to my life.  We should be content with self and not feel we “need a man.”
Now, in saying this, I’m not saying I don’t WANT a man; I welcome him, whoever he may be.  But I’m a firm believer in being in a relationship because of the PERSON and not the RELATIONSHIP.  I think oftentimes people decide to date just so they can be with SOMEONE and not necessarily THE ONE.  If we choose to date just for the sake of dating, that’s fine.  But we shouldn’t later try to fit someone into a different equation than the one we initially invited them into.  If we choose to date on a more personal level, then we should be a bit more selective and not just date space-fillers.

How do I know?  Because I used to do that.  I met a Black man in Malaysia who hung out with me for a total of about 6 hours and in that time he said to me—
“You’re beautiful—inside and out.  You’re the type of woman my mom would be happy to meet.  You’re smart.  You don’t speak much, but it isn’t because you’re shy.  It’s because you only speak when you feel you have something valuable to add to the conversation.  You don’t speak just to hear yourself talk.  You’re observant and protective…even of your heart.  You’re amazing, but you don’t know it.  You don’t think people really like you, like…men.  But you’re beautiful.  Really, you are.”
That resonated with me.  As I sat there in awe of how he just described me, my friend blurted out “YUP! Hahahahaha!!!”  Really?  People could gather all of that about me from such a brief interaction?  That made me conscious of the type of men I attracted, and the type I’d allowed to stay.  I dated my first boyfriend because I was turning 18 soon and had never been kissed, let alone had a boyfriend.  So, I dated him as a rite of passage.  I’ve been in relationships with others that I realize I should not have dated from the start, either just for the sake of dating, or because I thought they were as good as I was going to get.  Something needed to change.
            I haven’t been in a relationship in almost three years.  I haven’t really dated much since then either.  I told you this whole diatribe to say this:  A season of being single, particularly in a foreign country, is a remarkable thing!

While we are abroad, we look for something familiar, even if that is someone.  But sometimes that person possesses the type of familiarity that we really don’t need to reawaken.  It’s easier to “settle” abroad, especially if you don’t think of your new home as a permanent one.  But here’s the thing—while we are settling, we are hindering so many other things.  Being abroad is heavily a time of self-development in all areas.  I know people who have gone abroad for mental clarity, physical health, monetary gain…you name it!  Whatever area(s) they felt weak in, they have been able to strengthen it abroad.  Why complicate that with someone you don’t even care for?  Furthermore, when you get past the threshold of wanting to be with someone because you haven’t been with someone in a while and deciding to fly solo until someone really catches your attention; you become a more desirable person to others, including yourself.
            I don’t think that if you are in a relationship, you are clingy or can’t stand on your own.  Also, I am not saying that you need to “force” the single period.  Not at all.  If you are dating and/or in a healthy relationship, that’s great!  I just hope you realize that if you feel lonely because you are not with someone right now, that means you still have some more room to grow.  Depend on self to bring you happiness.  Don’t expect from others what you can’t provide for yourself.  Decide what you really want out of this experience abroad.  Is your main goal a relationship?  Does being in a relationship prevent you from reaching your main goal?  What are you sacrificing by staying single?  What are you gaining?

            I would love to share this experience abroad with someone…now.  Before, when I felt like damaged goods and like I was hiding, what exactly would I have been sharing…misery?  But when I got over it, I traveled, laughed harder, made new friends, strengthened old relationships, and have seen/done things I never thought I would.  Most importantly, I have become a better companion.  I like the idea of getting to know a person on a friendly (non-physical) level and building on that.  When we are physical, it clouds our judgment and we make decisions based primarily on that.  What happens when that slows up or changes?  But when you care about a person’s very being, it strengthens everything else.  I have several guy friends that I have made in countries all over the world, and even have crushes on a few.  But I’m no longer pressed to see “where things go” with them.  I enjoy their company as is, and if things progressed, cool.  If not, *shrugs* cool.
          Before, I was ready to add someone to my life to help me complete it.  Now, I have so much going on in my life that it is so fulfilled that when I consider dating someone, I think about how they need to bring something to the table to make up for the room I will have to make for them.  This morning I booked tickets to the Bahamas with my best friend.  We decided to go three days ago.  Travel is a major part of my life now!  If I am going to be with someone, could I see myself traveling with them, or them being worth me foregoing a few trips?  So for “Cuffing Season” I will remain “uncuffed” and be on a beach somewhere with my bestie, content with life.  Who knows, maybe next year someone different will be catching some rays with me.  But in the meantime and forever, I’m living!

The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams. –Oprah