I missed a perhaps more famous swine quotation – also from the Bible:

“Geve not that which is holy to dogges nether cast ye youre pearles before swyne lest they treade them vnder their fete and ye other tourne agayne and all to rent you.”

– Matthew 7:6, Tyndale translation (1526)

I’m reminded of the anecdote (probably apocryphal) of an encounter between Dorothy Parker and Clare Booth Luce. Meeting outside the entrance to a party, the younger and much more beautiful Luce stepped aside and invited Parker in saying “Age before beauty”.

Parker swept past saying sweetly “Pearls before swine”.


On hearing of a new influenza variant that combines aspects of both avian and porcine viruses I was pleased to conclude that pigs really can fly.

Now, after a few hours, it seems that the media are referring to this new variant as “Swine Flu”, and I’m left wondering if there are also “Cad” and “Bounder” types.

The use of the word “swine” seems a little strange to me. Apart from the pejorative use of the term, the word has virtually vanished from the English language – except, perhaps, for the term “Gadarene swine” – which smacks more of the English of Tyndale than of the current era:

Then ye devyles besought him [Iesus] sayinge: if thou cast vs out suffre vs to go oure waye in to the heerd of swyne.

And he sayd vnto the: go youre wayes. Then wet they out and departed into ye heerd of swyne And beholde ye whoale heerd of swyne was caryed wt violence hedlinge in to the see and perisshed in ye water.

Then ye heerdme fleed and wet their ways in to ye cyte and tolde every thinge and what had fortuned vnto the possessed of the devyls.

– Matthew 8:31-33, Tyndale translation (1526)


Last weekend I was entertaining. Rather than cook something Western I decided to showcase my talent (or lack thereof, as it turns out) for Thai food. Admittedly, this was a little foolhardy. Most Thai people are very particular about their food and analyse it in far more detail than your average Westerner would. Most Thai recipes include a comment about how the food should taste, along the lines of “first sour, then spicy, then equally sweet and salty”. Get the balance wrong and it will be noted.

My menu was straightforward:

  • duck salad (Thai style) with rambutan
  • tom yam gung (a hot, sour prawn soup)
  • hor mok (steamed finely chopped fish and other seafood in a spicy coconut milk custard).

At least, it was straightforward until I went to Tesco-Lotus to do the shopping. The first problem was that they didn’t have any duck. And the second was that they didn’t have mussels. (I’d wanted to serve the hor mok in mussel shells; this curry is usually served in banana leaf cups, but serving it in mussel shells is a rather more elegant presentation.) After a bit of thought I substituted beef for the duck – not that Tesco-Lotus had any nice steaks or similar, so I made do with some tough old cut which I marinated for a few hours first. And as for the hor mok, I settled for serving it in ramekins.

The beef salad turned out pretty well – though apparently not quite as spicy as it should be, so I was told – though my sinuses and tear ducts beg to differ. The other two dishes weren’t so good. The hor mok had a good taste, but I hadn’t ground the curry paste quite finely enough in my enormous granite mortar, I’d not added enough fish sauce (leaving it under-salted) and there was rather too much coconut milk for the quantity of fish. The tom yam gung – using a recipe from a relative of HM The Queen none-the-less – was a total disaster. It was strangely cloudy, and neither spicy nor sour. The prawns were fished out and consumed, but the soup itself was left untouched.

A friend made the pudding – taro root cooked in a heavy syrup and chilled served with salted coconut cream. It may sound a little strange, but it works really well. However, I still don’t know how I’ll ever get my saucepan clean again!

But back to the subject of Tesco-Lotus – or “Lotus” as it’s generally called in Thailand. (Actually, it’s more like “loh-tut” since Thai people, for the most part, can’t pronounce “s” at the end of syllables.) I usually shop there because it’s rather more convenient to get to than Big C (which opened a little over a year ago), plus it seems rather more hygienic: Big C has sparrows flying around inside doing what sparrows do. My opinion changed somewhat earlier today. I picked a packet of red curry paste from the shelf in Lotus. (I only make curry pastes from scratch when I’m entertaining – it’s such hard work grinding the ingredients by hand.) I then noticed a movement at the back of the shelf: it was a large, fat, sleek rat. I jumped back in surprise. A couple of middle-aged Thai women looked at me askance until I explained what I’d seen.

Sri Sathya Sai Baba wrote:

“The honey in the flower or lotus does not crave for bees; they do not plead with the bees to come. Since they have tasted the sweetness, they themselves search for the flowers and rush in.”

When it comes to Lotuses of the Tesco variety, it’s not the sweet honey that attracts the bees, but rather the lack of a decent alternative.


20. April 2009 · Comments Off on Getting About · Categories: Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

There’s not a lot to do in the Cameron Highlands but take in the cool air and plentiful nature. There are a number of standard treks through the forest of various degrees of difficulty. Unfortunately, the locals don’t take particularly good care of what they have, as this rubbish-adorned waterfall shows:

Cameron Highlands waterfall

However, tucked away in the undergrowth there are some strange delights, such as this Cobra Lily, which is carnivorous:

Cobra Lily, Cameron Highlands

The area is a leading tea producer, with “Boh” tea being the best-known brand. Vast areas of valley have been cleared and planted with tea bushes:

Tea Plantation, Cameron Highlands

In the old days the bushes were kept in check by armies of workers who plucked them every few weeks.

Tea Bushes, Cameron Highlands

However, now much of the cutting is done by machine, a sort of chainsaw on a sled, which is dragged along the tops of the bushes. It’s still necessary for tea pickers to go through the trimmings to sort out the leaves from the twigs.

Many of the tea workers used to be from Tamil Nadu, but now they mostly come from Bangladesh. Their accommodation is provided by the tea plantation owners. Here’s one such village, including a Tamil-style temple.

Tea Pickers' Village, Cameron Highlands

Some Indian tea workers have set up in business in the towns; there are numerous Indian restaurants and stores.

A couple of the tea plantations have a visitors’ centre where one can see and smell the tea being processed before being channelled into the gift shop. A few years ago I visited the Boh visitors’ centre – it was terrific, all caked with tea dust, the air filled with an intoxicating aroma with the clang of Victorian-age machinery all around. It seems, though, that Health & Safety has come to the Cameron Highlands, and one is now kept behind a glass partition and not allowed to see the dustiest processes. How things change … and only rarely for the better.

Tea is, of course, a type of Camellia. There’s a small garden specialising in Camellias that I visited. There were a few in bloom, but nothing spectacular. Indeed, the garden was more memorable for a vicious-sounding guard dog that took objection to my presence. Fortunately it was chained up.

One of the local culinary specialities is “steamboat”: a large pot of boiling stock is brought to your table, along with an assortment of fresh vegetables, meat, noodles. prawns and processed fish products. You cook the food at your leisure, waiting for the pot to reboil over a small gas ring before eating the food with a little chilli sauce. To be honest, it’s very similar to what the Thais call “suki” (from the Japanese “sukiyaki” – though, of course, the Japanese version is a dry dish, not a wet one). There are a couple of chain restaurants here in Thailand specialising in suki, and (to be honest) doing it better than the Cameron Highlands version.

The highlight of my trip had to be a walk in The Mossy Forest, or, as the tourist leaflets style it “The Lord of the Rings Mossy Forest”. It’s located near the peak of Mount Brinchang and appears to be permanently engulfed in mist. Here moss tumbles from almost every branch creating strange, unfamiliar outlines:

Mossy Forest, Cameon Highlands

The park authorities have built an elevated walkway through the forest so that visitors have a minimal impact upon the environment.

Mossy Forest, Cameron Highlands

Apart from the moss, there are occasional pitcher plants hanging from the branches, waiting for an errant insect to fall in.


A few years ago I visited the Cameron Highlands, a hill resort from Malaysia’s (or Malaya as it was then) colonial era. I spent a little longer there than I’d originally planned – but then a dislocated knee doesn’t exactly help with mobility. However, I remembered the deliciously cool climate and English charm and decided to visit again.

The flight from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur was delayed; isn’t that always the way with Air Asia? And the plane landed in the middle of a tropical storm at KL’s LCCT. (I believe that stands for “Low Convenience and Comfort Terminal” – though others maintain it’s “Low Cost Carrier Terminal.) There was the dash through the pouring rain to a corrugated-iron covered walkway which led (eventually) to a large tin shed which passed as Immigration. The queue there was one of the worst I’ve ever encountered (possibly only surpassed by JFK on a bad day). Almost an hour later I made it to the head of the queue, on to collect my baggage – which still hadn’t been unloaded.

The trip into the city centre wasn’t much better: the bus broke down. Being the good citizen that I am I joined the chain that unloaded the bags from the broken bus. That mean that when the replacement bus arrived I was at the back of the queue and didn’t get on it. Another long wait until a second replacement bus eventually arrived.

I had arranged to meet a good friend of mine, D., for dinner, but was now running seriously late. A few text messages later, D. offered to pick me up from the bus station and drive me to my hotel. I gratefully accepted. I’d been travelling for almost 12 hours and was decidedly hot and sticky (and not a little malodorous). After check-in and a quick shower I was ready to head out for dinner – Indonesian food. We had fried chicken, crispy fried dried eel, a green leaf in a green curry sauce, beef rendang and – a first for me – a beef tendon curry. The tendon was meltingly soft. To be honest, I thought it was hunks of beef fat.

The next day was devoted to shopping until I met up with D. again in the evening. He showed me around one of KL’s most popular stores: Ikea. It wasn’t that different from such establishments in the UK – vast and packed. Then we went for dinner at a Nonya restaurant – that’s the cuisine of the Chinese immigrants to Malaysia and blends Chinese techniques with local herbs and spices. The food is spicy, aromatic and somewhat herbal with a pleasant balance of sweet and sour. It was, needless to say, delicious.

The following morning I boarded a bus to the Cameron Highlands. It was filthy and clapped out, barely capable of climbing the steep, twisting ascent to the Highlands. However, that simply made for more time to take in the view. The greenery changes from the vast palm oil plantations of the lowland as one climbs. Deciduous trees take their place, and wild banana palms and, eventually, tree ferns.

Tree Fern, Cameron Highlands

The bus arrived at Tanah Rata (the main town of the Cameron Highlands) in the midst of another tropical storm. Fortunately there was a local bus waiting to depart which stopped outside my hotel. So, finally I’d arrived back in the Cameron Highlands.

Tree Fern Detail


There’s a standard pilgrimage in Ayutthaya province of nine temples, all to be visited in a single day. I’m not sure if this is something stemming from religious authority or a gimmick by the Tourist Authority of Thailand. Anyway, eight of the temples are in the provincial capital, but the ninth is in a small village a few kilometres away called Nakorn Luang. The name itself means something like “Royal City”. In ye olden days it was used by the kings of Ayutthaya as a resting point on trips to view the Buddha footprint at Wat Phra Phuttabaht . (See here for an account of my visit to that temple.) Now the village is dominated by a cement factory and a large rice mill.

The temple itself is nothing special to look at – no magnificent edifices or stunning Buddha figures, no significant ancient ruins, just a jumble of modernish buildings. What was a little extraordinary, though, was a senior monk. When he saw me wandering around he sent one of his assistants, a young woman, to invite me in to meet him. He told me he was in his sixties and had been a monk for all his adult life. (That’s hard work, but somebody’s got to do it.) He summoned another of his assistants to fetch a treasured relic: a WBC boxing prize belt and a signed glove. I hadn’t heard of the boxer concerned (which isn’t surprising, since I can only think of the names of three boxers, and I think Cassius Clay and Muhammad Ali are the same person).

The monk ordered drinks for me – a glass of water, a cup of instant coffee (teeth-rottingly sweet in the Thai tradition) and a cup of black tea. He was very generous. Since it was after midday he took nothing himself.

He spoke no English, apart from a couple of phrases which he trotted out.

He spoke at some length, sharing the teachings of the Lord Buddha.

He talked about the turtle – an animal which can only move forward, not backwards – and then gave me a small, cast yellow metal turtle to help me remember the teaching.

He also gave me a medallion.

The exposition finished he took me on a tour of the temple, pointing out pictures of him and one of the Princesses who visited the temple a few years ago.

I know that the monk was acting from the heart but, to be honest, I found the whole experience more than a little uncomfortable. Still, I won’t forget it.