LIFE IS A JOURNEY, ARE YOU READY?

7 WAYS TO PLAN FOR YOUR EARLY RETIREMENT



It is true that nothing lasts forever. Not food, not our lives, sometimes as much as we wish relationships do, they don't. So in reality, the most trustworthy person you have in your life is yourself. You married yourself the moment you were born and you will always be that one person who will never let yourself down. So, you should be the best investment you ever take up. And it should always be that way. No other person should come between you and yourself, even the closest person to you should be second. Someone could leave you, your company could sack you.

And I have been thinking about retirement. No, I am not really that age to be actually thinking about it yet. But there is no harm preparing early. I work in a sunset industry. And with more and more technology advancement, clients lose focus and believe less and less in the essence of things. I see senior colleagues losing their stand and having less foothold in everything they do. So how can I not plan for early retirement? Planning for passive income is more important now than ever.

I quit my full time job slightly more than a year ago and have been without income, except for some small passive income from dividends from bonds. It is still not enough to have a comfortable lifestyle if I were to leave the industry completely. Nonetheless, there have been a few things I picked up in the last year of being in limbo that taught me valuable lessons to be more sustainable.

  1. EVALUATE YOUR WAY OF REWARD
    I needed a lot of retail and culinary therapy. When work gets stressful, I buy junk. Not expensive stuff but cheap useless things. They pile up and collect dust, enough said. Culinary therapy was also something I indulged in. Fine dining, fine wines...etc. Not that these are completely unhealthy ways to deal with stress, but they are sometimes, if not many times unnecessary. I have learnt to curb my impulse to spend and buy stuff. The simplest way of understanding how retail therapy works is that owning something new makes you feel special and shiny all of a sudden. It is short lived nonetheless. If you can understand the fundamentals of your hormones and feelings, you can easily replace the process with something else. Putting on a facial mask or indulging in aromatherapy or lathering myself with prepared essentials oil are all very satisfying activities. By having this new habit of understanding, you can save loads and work towards a less stressed life ahead, sooner.
  2. FURTHER EVALUATING YOUR LIFESTYLE
    If you often feel stress, then you would have to evaluate further. No matter where stress is coming from, you can always change something. For example: My work more often than not requires me to stay the extra hours or late night. Thus, I try to be as productive as I possible can at work. Nothing really happens until after 10am in the office. Everyone would be slowly getting to work and they would be checking their emails and taking their time to reply whilst sipping their overpriced coffee. So I go in at 10am and I bring my own lunchbox. I usually work through lunch hour thus clocking in an extra hour when everyone is out lunching. I leave at 6pm. And then I have my evening to myself unless activated. That extra hour adds a lot to what is an already condensed evening. Time is money. Money can buy convenience, but if you are trying to save, time starts to be a very important factor.
  3. BE SYSTEMATIC IN YOUR THOUGHTS
    This needs training and I have realised a lot of people cannot do this. But this very important trait separates the movers and shakers. It is called multi-tasking. being able to see things that fit into the puzzle helps. Multi-tasking saves you time, and in time saves you money. It helps you to be more focus on what is important so you can get the little things done quickly and then full throttle towards your goals. Apart from the daily multi-tasking in the chores I have to do, I tend to have a list of to-do that I can easily achieve in front of the computer in short bursts of time. I could use that time at work to pay a bill online while waiting for a brief. I could research what to do with the bulk of potatoes at home...etc. If you can be systematic in your mind and work out a to-do list, you can easily find yourself free from a lot of piled up chores. This is good daily practice to be focus and efficient. Indulging in social media is pretty much what separates the movers and shakers.
  4. DOWNSIZE AND SIMPLIFY
    Clothes and other junk. Whatever we have as clutter is true in that it is a reflection of what goes on in our minds. I have been trying to downsize but my progress is slower than expected. I will always find use for something else and in the end, it is still a big clutter. I have learnt that to simplify, one needs to be ruthless. If I have not worn something for 3 years, what are the odds of me wearing it ever? I live in a metropolis where people do not really go for secondhand clothes. They are even very choosy when it comes to vintage clothes. So instead of tossing the old clothes into the recycling bin, I usually travel with them and leave them in the less developed places. It saves me from the laundry, and I have a spacious bag to stock on food instead. I have also gotten into the habit of leaving the odd old book or old necklace on buses and trains for people to find second lives for them. Evaluating what you have to toss also helps you to have a good sense of the spendings in the past, and how much you can reuse or repurpose some things you already possess.
  5. TALK TO FINANCIAL ADVISORS AND PROPERTY AGENTS
    These are the people who can advise what to do with your money to have good returns. You would be a fool to just leave your money sitting in the bank. Putting them in bonds to get dividends is a smart way to increase your assets and have a small passive income. Just evaluate your risk profile and understand the market enough to make a sensible move.
  6. VISUALISE YOUR RETIREMENT
    No one really retires. Even if you were to retire, you would still need to work towards some form of passive income. So it is important to know what you want to do during your retirement. Visualising it helps to work towards it faster. If you are thinking of relocation in the future, it might be sensible to invest in property in that place.
  7. SPEEDING IT UP OR DOING IT SLOWLY
    The world's economy is volatile and slow at the moment. It is a depressing time. But perhaps it is this time to start weighing options and seeing what might come up. Evaluate how much you are getting paid in the world's economy. Are you maximising your potential? Could you earn more if you were to move somewhere else to work? Are you paying too much tax in your home country? Are you investing in the right things? If moving somewhere else and earning more and paying less tax is an option for you, why not consider that and work towards an earlier retirement?

HOW TO DECORATE YOUR PANTRY WITHOUT SPENDING MONEY


I am currently visiting a friend who is sick. So I have volunteered my cooking service. I am not a professional but having someone to cook everything from fresh beats coming home after work to heat up a frozen meal. My friend's place is very basic. No colours, no decorations. But to spruce up the pantry and dining table a little does not need that much effort. You have all you need already in your pantry and refridgerator. 

Here are some ideas:
  • Show off the colours. Bring out the colourful fruits and vegetables. Not everything needs to be kept away in the cabinet or refridgerator. The fresh colours not only pop but reminds us of the freshness we might otherwise be missing out on frozen meals. 
  • Display your vegetables in jars and glasses. Unless you are in a very hot country, leaving your leafy vegetables out in glasses of water on the tabletop do not help to keep them fresh. This works especially well if they have roots. Think spring onions, celery and some salad leaves.
  • Show off your jars of herbs and spices. The glorious colours of turmeric or the dark brown of cinnamon, the beautiful colours of white, black and red peppers...etc. All these add to our visual appetite. 

EASY HEALTHY COOKIE WITH ONLY 2 INGREDIENTS

I came across this recipe a while back and ran straight to the supermarket to buy bananas and oats. That is right. Just these 2 ingredients. I defeated the purpose of this recipe being the ultimate fruit waste recipe. The reason why I say that is because this recipe is only good with an overly ripe banana. An over-ripe banana, with its darkened skin, with its flesh almost stewing inside, caramelising its own jnatural sugar; that is what you need. This money saving recipe is not only healthy, it also saves you an extra ingredient that is sugar. 

I just happened to have an odd banana from my trip in the fridge. I have developed a bad habit of not eating many fruits now due to the sugars. Yes, people say it is a healthier sugar, it is fructose. However, it still digests into glucose. The lesser the better. 

But what would you do with that odd over-ripe banana in your pantry? Food waste is no no for us at Fidgety Fingers, so a healthy snack it is.


INGREDIENTS
  • An over-ripe banana (Let's assume this mashes up to 1/2 cup)
  • Rolled oats (I used 1/2 cup of it. The original recipe calls for 1/4 cup but I find that it leaves the banana mixture too wet. Apparently you can use instant oats too but I have rolled oats lying around.)
  • Cinnamon (Just because a little spice is good for you. And tasty too)


DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven. 180C
  2. Prepare cookie mixture. Mash banana and mix with oats. Add cinnamon powder or any other spice you might fancy.
  3. Spoon mixture on greased tray. You may use grease paper too.
  4. Bake for 12-15min. This depends on the size of your cookies. I made them small. So I baked them for 12 minutes.
  5. OPTIONAL: flip and bake for longer. My cookies were a bit wet on the bottom. It was mashed banana after all. I flipped them and baked for another 8 minutes.
My measured ingredients made about 10 bite size cookies. Not bad for some leftovers and a quick bake. They are sweet enough and make a healthy snack which no additives and fussy ingredients. Just the way I like it.

ITINERARY AROUND SOUTHEAST ASIA TO AND FRO SINGAPORE

I met up with M for dinner the other day. We were lucky to be in the same city at the same time. So a vegan dinner it was :-(... We were talking about my travels thus far and M said he would like to extend his stay in Asia for a while more after his project. So I suggested this route for his. This should more or less mark up a logical travel plan without making too much of a detour. That being said, M is a very tall guy and traveling on some of those overnight sleeper buses could be very uncomfortable for him. I am 1.74m tall and those sleeper beds are more or less just nice for me, and M is a head taller than me.

The suggested Southeast Asia itinerary will not cover the whole of Southeast Asia but it does cover a good part of it. Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines can easily be done on the odd long weekend. Different places at different times no doubt.

I found this map and thought it is interesting to see where the borders are.

WHERE TO EXCHANGE MYANMAR KYAT TO SINGAPORE DOLLARS IN SINGAPORE

I was looking for places to exchange Myanmar Kyat (MMK) to Singapore Dollars (SGD). It is a rare currency to find and the place to change it is no other than Peninsula Plaza in Singapore City Hall. The nearer MRT station is City Hall. They have the best exchange rate for MMK in the whole of Singapore also because it is Little Burma.

There are only a handful of money changer in this building. I probably went to 4 or 5 to enquire the rates. I was lunching at Golden Mile also known as Little Thailand with my friends. There are many money changers there where you would find competitive rates for popular currencies like Thai Baht and Malaysian Ringgit. Malaysian Ringgit because Golden Mile is the takeoff point for many short and long haul buses to Malaysia.

Golden Mile has a couple of money changers who carry limited amount of MMK. Although their exchange rate is not usually great. As of 4th January 2017, their best offer was S$1 to 750Kyat.

Global Exchange on the 2nd level of Peninsula Plaza offered the best rate of S$1 to 860Kyat. 4th January 2017


Upon asking at Peninsula Plaza, the rate was significantly higher, they offered S$1 to 840Kyat, with Global Exchange on the second floor offering the best rate of S$1 to 860Kyat.

I think it is competitive and important to exchange Kyats before heading to Myanmar knowing the currency exchange situation there. They do not accept many notes nor currencies, especially soiled, crumpled or folded notes. Peninsula Plaza's changers also have more MMK to change if you are changing bigger amounts.

** UPDATE: Kyat is not a valued currency so exchanging it in Singapore gives you a rather unfavourable rate. I saw some good rates in Yangon's Chinatown.

ELECTRIC LUNCH BOX REVIEW AND TEST FOR TRAVELING COOKER

I bought one in grey. Pink is not my colour.

I bought this electric lunchbox, also a mini steamer, also a portable cooker a couple of years ago. I have probably only used it once. I know, I am useless. I have been doing so much big time cooking that I have neglected this electric lunchbox (as what it is marketed as). I am planning to do a whole lot of traveling so I am thinking when else to put this into good use than now. I better start practicing at home than when I am on the road. I am going to be traveling in Southeast Asia. Food is cheap but there are also some other destinations outside that are expensive. I am still contemplating Europe, but Japan is definitely on the list. Or Korea. I have heard that food is not really super cheap there.

It comes with a deep steaming dish, a shallow one which can sit on top of the deep dish. You can also use the egg tray to steam eggs to your liking. There is a lid if you need to store food. Cord of course. Booklet does not say much.



I just cannot find any good enough reviews to tell me how it works.



Anyway, I am making soup today. It really doesn't matter what kind of soup I am making. I just want to try to see if I can actually make a soup that takes 30-60 minutes on the stove to make. Just out of interest, I am listing the ingredients here. I am using a gourd that needs time to soften.

This is what it looks like with the shallow steaming dish on top of the deep dish. This example shows you rice being cooked in the deep dish and a meat dish being steamed on top.




INGREDIENTS : 
  • 1 Chayote. I have never cooked with this although I have had it before. The Chinese supermarket calls it 'sweet gourd'.
  • 1 Red onion
  • 2 Big cloves of garlic
  • Goji berries
  • 1 Pork stock cube
  • Dash of sesame oil
  • Dash of white pepper
  • Dash of ginger powder

It is a bit too much ingredients but I am not on the road now. This is good for an experiment. I will need to limit the ingredients if I want to use this cooker for real on my travels.




OBSERVATIONS :
  • The power goes on and off. I don't remember this but the last time I used it was too long ago. I suppose it is trying to regulate the temperature. It does turn itself off when the water is all steamed up in the steaming tray, not in your food.
  • I want the soup to be cooked for a long time. So it doesn't matter how much water I put in the steaming tray. I will probably see what time it stops and then top up some more water. But I guess you really need to figure out the quantity for cooking eggs and rice. There has to be a guide somewhere. I don't think I have it.
  • I filled the water to about 1 cm below the brim of the steam tray. It went for 3 hours. WOW! That can cook a good herbal soup or slow braise. How is this possible for a little thing like this?
  • It is important to use drinking water to steam your food. Your food gets a little wetter, more gravy if you may, because not all the steam escapes. If you want your food to be 'dry', you should better cover it or use a microwave grade cling wrap over the steaming dish.
  • I would cover a dish of rice with some foil or cling film to cook. The water does not get out easily so it does make your rice wetter than if with a rice cooker. Cooking rice takes about 20-25 minutes depending on how 'wet' you like your rice to be.

WHAT I LIKE : 
  • Size. It is about 15cmsq. Pretty small but it still takes up space in a backpack. But I guess if it means eating well and saving money, it is worth it. I think the volume makes a good size dish for one or two small eaters, depending what you are cooking.
  • It comes with egg tray and secondary steamer tray, and a lid in case you have leftovers. The secondary steamer dish allows you to cook some meats or rice on top of what you are making in the deep dish. It makes a wholesome meal.
  • Portability. Come on, need I say more. I bought a mini rice cooker thinking I would make use of that. But that is more difficult to use and control. I have tried it and the heat shut down when it is rice timing cooked, then it goes to keep warm. What if I want to continue cooking? It is kind of impossible.
  • Versatility. You don't need to use the insides that come with it. It is a steamer. Just use any other ceramics or stainless steels that can withstand the heat. I am thinking some of those 'Lock and Lock' containers since they are so good being airtight. Perhaps I should not be cooking with plastic. I am sure it is ok for quick steaming. But another plus is this. Even if the original insides are worn out, you can use other replacements. You certainly cannot do it with the mini rice cooker.
  • It takes so little water to steam cook. Of course, it still needs electricity.
  • Long cooking time. So far it is 3 hours with the amount of water I put in. See above. I stopped at 3 hours ok. I needed my dinner. I am sure it would go for another hour.
  • I am so impressed by the time of steaming. I mean one deep dish is a lot of everything be it potatoes, meat, beans and what not. So, this is cheap cuts for an awesome dish in this little thing.
  • One pot meal, pretty good. It makes you really think about what to put in.

WHAT I DISLIKE : 
  • Steaming only. I guess it is ok. Healthy, why not? Not like a portable rice cooker can do better. I can cook rice, steam anything, heat up anything. A rice cooker is not so versatile.
  • It is smaller than a mini rice cooker.
  • You need to experiment and figure out cooking times and water volume.
  • You cannot see the food cooking. Hence, there is always this need to keep opening it. But I do not think you can really over steam food. You would be hungry smelling your cuisine.
  • Nothing more. I am struggling to find something to say.

INGREDIENTS GOOD FOR PORTABLE TRAVEL COOKING : 
  • Dry mains. Rice, oats, quinoa. I thought of pasta but it is rather bulky.
  • Dried beans. Just remember to soak some of the variants before cooking, preferably overnight.
  • Stock cubes. Flavours any rice or soups. Life savours.
  • Dried seafood like shrimps. They really add to the taste if you don't have anything. Good source of protein too.
  • Japanese rice toppings. This is all dehydrated and they taste so good. Buy them from a Daiso if you have it in your city, they are cheap and cheerful.
  • Dried veg for soups and savoury porridge
  • Salt for sure
  • Pepper and some other condiments.
  • ***This is gold. I tried cooking with Chinese waxed/cured sausages and they are great. They contain fats so you don't need oil, salt so you need little, umami so you don't need stock cubes or meat, wine, and sesame oil. That is awesome with rice or oats porridge or soup.
  • I think a lot of other things can be bought when you are in the country itself. It should be easy to buy fresh produce and sauces.

PRODUCT SPECS : 
  1. Capacity: 1.2L
  2. Liner Material: Stainless Steel
  3. Power: 200W
  4. Function: cook rice, porridge, noodle, soup and so on
  5. High quality nontoxic plastic shell
  6. Small and exquisite design
  7. No-stick inner pot, easy for clean
  8. The inner pot and shell is integral
  9. Products size : 150 mm * 160 mm * 148mm 
I ate a lot of the soup. Forgot to take pix but here it is.


Soaking some speckled butter beans (from Cameron Highlands) since there is a cover. Saves washing and re-soaking and cooking in.

The butter beans took forever to cook. I like them real soft. I did soak them over night too. So, I guess big beans are a bad idea. Perhaps mung beans or similar size beans are better for steaming.

BREW CHEAP ALCOHOL AT HOME : GINGER TEA WINE

I sterilised the bottle with a bit of bleach diluted in water. Rinse with water again after.
I tried making Chinese rice wine last night. This is my progress on making Chinese rice wine. I thought I try brewing another wine today since it is a long wait. I mean it is about a week of wait before I can drink or bottle them. So I used Chinese wine yeast last night which is the legit yeast to use brewing wine. I have read blogs using baker's yeast too. Baker's yeast is active dry yeast or instant yeast. I have loads of instant yeast so it cost nothing. The difference between brewer's and baker's yeast is a difference in taste and also brewer's yeast can yield a higher alcoholic content.

The Standard Ingredients
  • 1.5 litre bottle. I filled it up to about 1litre.
  • Funnel
  • 1 cup of sugar. I used white.
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • Plastic bag
  • Rubber band
The Flavouring
  • Ginger powder or any types of flavouring. I just used what I have in the kitchen.
  • Brewed black tea

WHAT KIND OF SUGAR TO USE? ISN'T WHITE SUGAR BAD?

This is from PennilessParenting: I used white sugar for this because none of it gets left behind afterwards- the yeast eats it all and turns it into alcohol, so I don't bother using more expensive better quality sugars.

WHAT KIND OF YEAST TO USE? A LOT OF PEOPLE SAID TO USE BREWER'S YEAST BUT IT IS EXPENSIVE.

This is from PennilessParenting: If you've noticed, for the yeast, I use just regular baking yeast, instead of champagne yeast (typically used for wine making) or beer yeast. A friend asked what the difference is when it comes to wine making, etc... Essentially the difference is that baking yeast is less alcohol tolerant- when making your alcohol, if you use baking yeast, you'll only be able to achieve an 8% alcohol level tops- any more than that and the yeast will die, whereas wine yeast can survive and keep on fermenting until it reaches about 14% alcohol.

WHEN DO I STOP THE FERMENTATION?

This is from PennilessParenting: Cover the bottle with a bit of plastic- either from plastic wrap or a plastic bag- and secure it onto the bottle with a rubber band. You don't want it to be too tight; you just want to make sure the plastic doesn't fall off.

Place this bottle in a moderately warm place for two weeks. After 2 weeks, taste test to see if it tastes alcoholic. If it doesn't taste alcoholic enough but isn't sweet, add some more sugar and let it ferment some more. (The yeast eats the sugar and makes alcohol, so in order to make it more alcoholic you need more sugar.)

If it is alcoholic enough, pour yourself a glass and enjoy your home brew.

I funnelled the cup of sugar into the bottle and added about 3 tsp of ginger powder.
The black tea was lukewarm. It was just nice the dissolve the sugar and activate the instant yeast.
The bottle needs to breath since there will be a lot of carbon dioxide from the yeast eating the sugar. The easiest airlock is to secure a plastic bag with a rubber band over the mouth of the bottle. I poked a few holes with a needle in case it needed more space.
I took this photo with flash to show the action within the bottle. It is full of bubbling action.
Foaming on top means the fermentation is happening and the yeast is happy.


It got really foamy within the first hour but the foam disappeared. There is still a lot of bubbling though.
I noticed that there are loads of discussion about water and the quality of it. I am based in Singapore where tap water is drinkable. Even so, there is chlorine and fluoride in it. The best practice is to boil the water and cool it down before using it. There is no need to purchase bottled water.

KEDAI TUAK AWAM : JOHOR BAHRU HOMEMADE TODDY

The Johor Bahru Toddy shop since 1920.
I read about this toddy shop in Johor Bahru from other bloggers. It is about 10 minutes walk from CIQ checkpoint at Johor. This makes this an affordable experience. This toddy is made from coconut juice and it is fermented. It has a slight alcohol kick to it from the natural yeast feeding on the natural sugars. If you are looking for a souvenir to bring back to Singapore from your day trip, you can get a 1.5 litre bottle to go for RM12.

Wikipedia: Palm wine is an alcoholic beverage created from the sap of various species of palm tree such as the palmyra, date palms, and coconut palms.[1][2] It is known by various names in different regions and is common in various parts of Asia, Africa the Caribbean and South America.

This is the entrance of the toddy shop. There is no way you would have guess they sell anything here. It looks so derelict. If it wasn't for other bloggers who have wrote about this, I don't think I would dared to venture in. Yes, I am a chicken.
My normal mug of toddy served at room temperature. RM3
Toddy tastes like barley actually. It is rather yeasty and a bit sourish. It is also sweet. I asked the man who was selling it what sort of yeast he used but he said everything is natural.

It is a sleepy place. So derelict and actually very quaint. There was only 3 people in there including the man who sells it.
So sleepy that someone picked this place for a nap, with newspaper covering his half drunk toddy.
I like this place. Although it is not flashy, I don't mind hanging out with a friend here and chat the afternoon away.
A typical old school Indian setup. It wasn't busy so the man served me my mug of toddy at my table. I was carrying loads of things so I thought he did it out of goodwill.
This is a closeup of the prices. I asked the man which a toddy mix is. It made mixing the old toddy with the new toddy, giving it more of a alcoholic kick. I bought 2 1.5litre bottles of the toddy mix back home.
He recommended putting the bottles in the fridge for maximum a week. It will have more of a kick. But do remember to give it a little mix. He didn't speak a lot of English, so our conservation was limited. I suppose from all the I have learnt about fermentation so far, putting the bottles in the fridge slows down the fermentation process. By doing so, you can keep the toddy for longer. If not, it will probably turn into vinegar in room temperature for that amount of time.

Their fame and reviews.
Prepping my bottles of toddy to bring back to Singapore.
Enjoying my mug of toddy with my podcast.
I was inspired by the simple setup of this toddy shop. Making your own fermented drink must be really easy. I have read about people making their own rice wine and fruit enzymes, so I must be able to make it myself too. Time to experiment.

MAKING RICE WINE FOR THE FIRST TIME

The jars of rice wine mixture after 12 hours. I have got to be patient.
I went to Johor Bahru a few days ago simply for an afternoon walk. I read that there is a shop that sells toddy. I have never had toddy before. Wikipedia: Palm wine is an alcoholic beverage created from the sap of various species of palm tree such as the palmyra, date palms, and coconut palms.[1][2] It is known by various names in different regions and is common in various parts of Asia, Africa the Caribbean and South America.

This is toddy, palm wine.
You can read about my experience at the toddy shop in Johor here. Toddy tastes like barley actually. It is rather yeasty and a bit sourish. It is also sweet. I asked the man who was selling it what sort of yeast he used but he said everything is natural. And with that, my mind started running with the possibilities of making alcohol myself. I have tried rice wine in Vietnam but I never question the difficulties of making it. Their rice wine is clear so I assumed there is a step of distillation which is difficult for me to fathom. There are simply too many equipments? I am not sure. But I can be sure that Chinese rice wine is simple enough to make at home since so many mothers make it. It is after all an ancient craft.

I spent a good few days researching on homemade rice wine. There are simply too many different recipes out there. I managed to find the most difficult ingredient which is the rice yeast, also known as rice balls, yeast balls, Chinese wine yeast, 'jiu bing' (literally wine cake), or some people also call it koji (Japanese name). The frustrating part is that the sellers couldn't tell me how to use them. Well, thank goodness for the internet then. Even so, I had to disintegrate all the information and figure it out for myself.

These are what I used:
  • Glass jar with an opening big enough for inserting rice.
  • Rice. I have read that you can use any type of rice. The most preferred is glutinous, sweet or Japanese. I have read that you can use jasmine rice too, only that the taste will be inferior. I used Japanese as this is what I have.
  • Wine yeast. You can buy these at Traditional Chinese Medical Halls. They call it 'jiu bing' (literally wine cake).
  • Rice cooker. This is definitely easier than steaming it.

This is the measurement I figured after reading off the internet:
  • 2.5 cups of rice
  • Water according to the rice cooker
  • 1 ball of wine yeast
I have a couple of these glass jars at home so I thought I should put them to good use. I was sterilising the jars with boiling hot water.
Directions:
  • Sterilise your jars but washing them and then pouring hot water over them. They need to be dried thoroughly. I just leave them to dry somewhere. I didn't wipe them down.
  • Wash the rice about 3 times or until the water is more or less clear.
A lot of people say to soak the rice but I didn't bother. I assume that is only for steaming. We never soak our rice before cooking anyway.
Cook and relax. It will take about 25minutes or so. I turned it off once it went to keep warm. 
I loosened the rice and left it in the pot to cool. I had time to spare. Some people spread it out on tray but I wanted to save on washing.
This is the wine yeast. It comes in a bag of 2. My jars are not so big and I didn't want to waste too much rice and wine yeast for my first try so I just used one.
  • I crushed one ball with my hands and mixed the yeast into the cooled rice with my hands. I probably won't do that in the future. The rice was so sticky it got difficult to mix and handle. I have read that it is possible to dissolve the yeast in water (not hot as you will kill the yeast) and pour into the cooled rice. That should be better so I couldn't crush the whole ball into powder. There are big pieces. I am not sure if that matters at all. I have seen someone do that on Youtube.
My 2 jars and the wine yeast.

I divided the rice into the 2 jars as one is too small. I covered the jar with kitchen napkins and rubber band. I have read that I shouldn't seal it airtight as the fermentation will release carbon dioxide.
  • Now we wait. 
  • Some people need to place this in a warm place but I live in the tropics and room temperature is just about right for fermenting rice.
This is closeup of the rice mixture with wine yeast. You can see the bigger pieces.
I will be posting my progress. It is early days and half a day didn't do much to it. Going to try to make some ginger wine this afternoon. Let see how that pans out. Check out my ginger wine progress here.

Almost 20 hours, there is more condensation on the jar. It also feels warm.


2.5 days.
Taken at night hence the warm lighting. 3.5 days.

HOW TO GET TO AND WHAT TO PREPARE : BUS TO CAMERON HIGHLANDS

The famous view of the tea plantations on Cameron Highlands. Time to see if it is all worth the trouble going up there.
I was feeling the itch to travel. I just got back from Thailand from a a week and a half of what I call an 'observatory trip of sex tourism' in Pattaya. That is another story. I had time to spare and I had not been to Pattaya before. Hence. It was interesting but it was enough for a one time experience.

So, I wanted a short trip. One which did not require too much research. Malaysia has always been a rather friendly place for me. It is just across the border and we speak the same languages and have similar cultures. I picked Cameron Highlands since I have already been to KL, Penang and Malacca. I also needed a quick cool down from the heat in Thailand. So off I went after a day of contemplation. It was 10 hours on the overnight coach.

This is a typical bus that goes to Cameron Highlands. The buses usually leave at 10.30pm from Golden Mile Tower in Singapore. But there are buses that leave in the morning too. I advise to take the night bus as you do not lose a day traveling.
Here are some tips traveling on the coach to Cameron Highlands:
  • Pack enough water and snacks if you need any. It is a long journey. The driver will make several stops for toilet breaks. There will be shops to sell food too. In case you are the picky sort, best to bring your own.
  • Separate your luggage. You can store your big luggage in the bus compartment outside. Or smaller bags overhead in the bus. If you don't mind your bags at your feet, you can put it on the floor. But the seats recline and the foot rest comes up too. So just take what you need.
  • Wrap up. If the buses are not well known to be on time, they are famous for being super cold. And I mean colder than the highlands. The air conditioning will be blasting at you. You have to bring warm clothes. And if you like, some masking tape to cover those air vents.
  • Neck support. Although the chair reclines, it is still not like a bed. You will find yourself in an awkward position if you want to sleep in a comfortable position. A neck pillow is the answer to a good night's sleep on such a long journey.
  • Puke bags. The roads up and down the highlands is very trying. They are winding and they almost seem not to end. I was ok as I slept through it but my coming down the highlands made me queasy. You will need a couple of bags and napkins just in case.
  • Where to stop. Always check the map before you buy your bus ticket. The buses stop at different areas in the Highlands and you can potentially save a taxi fare. Download offline maps so you know where the buses are passing by. You could negotiate a quick drop off with the driver if you are lucky.
  • Weight your options. A lot of people grimace at the thought of a 10-hour journey on the bus. Yes, it is not fun. The bumpy drive also makes it difficult for one to read a book. I brought my podcasts so I was fine. The coach isn't the only way up but it is possibly the cheapest. You can also fly to Ipoh and take a transport from there. My journey there took 10 hours and my journey back took 14 hours due to traffic congestion. It was indeed a pain. If you cannot afford the time and pain, best to think twice.
My bus' last destination was Strawberry Park Resort. They made a stop at Brinchang town before heading up there. Basically stopping for the passengers to take a quick breakfast as they cannot check into the resort just yet. Also for the travel agents there to pitch their tours.

This is the stop if you want to get to Fabian and Lilian's Everything English Homestay.
Check my review of their homestay here

EVERYTHING ENGLISH HOMESTAY IN CAMERON HIGHLANDS

I arrived very early in the morning with the bus from Singapore. Fabian and Lilian drove up hours before the check-in time to accommodate an early check-in. Much appreciated. Their holiday home is very cosy and makes one feel very relaxed and personable. This experience is very unlike a hostel or hotel. They made sure we were sorted with tours, maps and all the tips we needed. They also checked on us everyday.

The many couches and chilling corners at the homestay. 
Pretty with the misty skies, green balcony and warm interior of the homestay on a chilly morning.


Lilian's beautiful wedding dress, packed and ready to be brought back to their place in Ipoh.

The view from their balcony. Loads of potted plants on the balcony. The balcony next door belongs to the master bedroom. A nice chilling area for couples.
View of Brinchang Town from Sam Poh Temple which is just 5 minutes from the homestay.
TO STAY AT BRINCHANG OR TANAH RATA
A friend who frequents Cameron Highlands advised me to stay at Brinchang rather than Tanah Rata. Reason being, it is closer to all the attractions, restaurants and markets. Their home is a flight of stairs to Brinchang Town which only takes about 3 minutes to get to. You will experience local Chinese, Malay and Indian restaurants. There is a Malay food court. There is a supermarket and also several small provision shops.

THE VICINITY OF BRINCHANG : AROUND THE HOMESTAY
One rather gourmet provision shop sells alcohol, organic products and also specialised ice cream like, black charcoal, strawberry cheesecake, teh tarik (pulled milk tea) and my favourite, salted gula melaka (salted palm sugar caramel). A small morning street market is also 8 minutes away, behind KFC. The pasar malam (night market) is about 10 minutes away. They sell clothes, trinkets, fresh produce, cameron specialties and hot food to go. The market opens on Friday and Saturday nights, but we were lucky as it opens everyday during Malaysian school holiday. Try the fried sweet potato balls, grilled mutton, ayam murtabak (chicken and egg pancake) which is not greasy and more like a tortilla. So you do get a very local experience at Brinchang, rather than a touristic and more expensive one at Tanah Rata. Honestly, why would anyone travel all the way up here to experience bars and Starbucks altogether again? You are at home here with friends!

The homestay is located in a private estate which means awesome quiet nights. I was lucky all the guests got along so well together during my stay. We were like a family. We would buy food from the market to share, chat and watch the quality DVD collection. Lilian made sure the pantry was well stocked. So we had biscuits, tea and coffee, bread and Fabian's famous fluffy scones. They also have a water filter so we didn't need to buy bottled water. They have pretty tea cups and pots, so we were indulging in the Cameron tea culture everyday.

The wifi was strong and I was able to be in touch with friends. I was also able to watch my videos on stream. Not that we were spending a lot of time indoors, most things are walkable from the homestay we were out and about a lot. Big Strawberry Farm is very near and we also walked to Smokehouse Inn for tea. All in all, I love my experience staying at Fabian and Lilian's. This is my first Airbnb experience and I am just afraid the future experiences will not be able to top this.

Fabian's famous fluffy scones. And yes, he will teach you how to make them if you are keen.

Lovely pancakes and local strawberries can be enjoyed on their balcony. 

The humble kitchen where all these magic happens.







INFORMATION ABOUT THE HOMESTAY
Our 3 bedroom apartment with attached bathrooms is tucked away in a lively town of Brinchang in Cameron Highlands with an annual temperature of 20 C. Just 5 minute walk away leads you to the town centre where there are excellent restaurants and shops

The space
Experience warm English hospitality in a cool environment. We have 2 dorms with 4 bunk beds in each dorm and attached bathroom. It is from RM60.00 per bed per person per night in a shared room. We also have a double room with a double bed with different rate if you wish to have more privacy.

Guest access
Cosy lounge and reading corner. No cooking is allowed but any requests can be considered.

Interaction with guests
Will be present during guest's stay most of the time.

The neighbourhood
Quiet neighbourhood and beautiful landscaped garden. Short walking distance to the 4th largest Buddhist Temple in Malaysia and a beautiful Hindu Temple.

Getting around
It is centrally located in the town centre with public bus available. A perfect base to get to all the local attractions. Parking is available at the premise.

Other things to note
We love our lovely home and we have extra rooms to spare and we wish to share our cosy home with travellers and let them experience some warm English hospitality.

They have a corner with a good selection of books.

Mobile Phone:
006 0175832252 or 006 012 574 3977
Email: everythingenglishhomestay (at) outlook (dot) com
D3, North Block, Honeymoon Villa, Jalan Kuari, 39100
Brinchang, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.

Check out their rooms here on Airbnb: Dorms and Double bedroom
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