Month: November 2013

A Black Mood on Black Friday

It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve had enough money to even think about Christmas presents without the crushing anxiety of potential bankruptcy. In the past, I could set a low price and then find the most interesting thing at or under that price. And if the person didn’t like their gift, they could at least console themselves with the knowledge that I had to miss a few meals to pay for it. Now that I have money, I find myself facing a new set of problems: pointedly, I don’t even know how to do this kind of thing. I don’t have a reason to limit my price rage too narrowly, which means I have a whole sea of options open. What does one do when they’re faced with an abundance of choice and limited restrictions?

Generally, the idea is to act like Sherlock Holmes and eliminate all bad ideas until, logically, the one that remains is the best. I could go through a list of possibilities and check off items, narrowing down choices, but this is the Internet, and the Internet has ears.

It also has nightmarish gif images.

It also has nightmarish gif images.

I honestly don’t know if there was a point to this post other than to make deadline on the 30-day challenge. I suppose I wanted to gripe in some small way about the materialism of the holidays, too, and do the whole mo-money-mo-problems bull, but our fancy apartment complex is situated next to a shanty town. I’m pretty sure we don’t have that many problems.

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A Thanksgiving List on Birds

It’s that time of year again, so let’s talk about birds!

  1. Turkey: n. A large winged vertebrate that lays eggs and tastes delicious. Also, apparently, not halal.
  2. Turkey: prop. n. A country on the border of Asia and Europe, south of Russia, north of Iraq.
  3. Turkey: n. A three strikes in a row in bowling.
  4. Turkey: n. slang A useless, dense, ineffective, clumsy, gullible, or dimwitted person, possibly prone to accidents. Derived from the behavior of the domesticated versions of the above vertebrates (see #1).
  5. Turkey: n. slang A box office failure.
  6. Wild turkey: n. A non-domesticated variant of #1. Prone to territorial violence, even against humans. True story: I saw one loitering outside a 7-11 in Brookline, Massachusetts, directly under a “No Loitering” sign. Wild turkeys just don’t give a shit about the rules.
  7. Wild Turkey: prop. n. A brand of Kentucky bourbon whiskey that brings out violence and tomfoolery.
  8. This bird is so high he can see your molecules vibrating.

    This bird is so high he can see your molecules vibrating.

    Bird: n. A winged, feathered vertebrate that lays eggs and usually flies, though not at the same time. Class: Aves.

  9. Bird: n. According to Urban Dictionary, a brick of cocaine. Unknown origin, though perhaps the snowy owl?
  10. Bird: n. The word. Papa ooh mow mow.
  11. Bird: n. slang Chiefly British, a girl or young woman. Ex: “Oi, mate! That bird’s chewing denim.”
  12. The finger, the bird, the one-finger salute, the finger wave, the middle finger.

    The finger, the bird, the one-finger salute, the finger wave, the middle finger.

    Bird, the: n. A gesture considered rude almost universally. Means, “Fuck you,” because it indicated what you would like to do with that finger. Generally, though, most people don’t actually want to do that to the person, and the gesture is telling them to fuck off, get fucked, or is giving them a visual demonstration of how to go fuck themselves. This gesture is generally considered a cousin or even derivation of the primarily British two-finger salute, in which the middle and index fingers are displayed, palm facing the saluter. There are many theories on the source of the two-finger salute, but none of them, including the chopping off of the fingers of archers, hold much water. Chances are its origins lie, as do many things, in sex.

  13. Birds, the: prop. n. An Alfred Hitchcock joint. If memory serves, birds to make an appearance at some point.
  14. Bird, Larry: prop. n. A basketball player for the Boston Celtics during the ’80s. He was pretty good.
  15. Byrds, the: prop. n. A band from the ’60s, notable for their song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” from the album of the same name.
  16. B1-RD: prop. n. No, not a character from Star Wars. An ultralight kit aircraft produced by Robertson Aircraft Company. About as safe as it looks.

Anyway, I think I’ve run this one into the ground. I always like to be proven wrong, though.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sci-Fi Primer II: The Revenge of the Son of Sci-Fi Primer: Apocalypse Requiem 2, the Sequel

It occurred to me that maybe this whole post-a-day-for-thirty-days thing might be harder than I thought. Take yesterday’s entry for example. I actually had notes written down, and could have followed them, but truth be told: I don’t have all that much time to write that isn’t full of distractions. Ideas also come to me very slowly, which is why I’ve stayed at about one entry every week or week and a half. When I try to go faster than that, well, I end up with scattered, incomplete ideas like I did yesterday. But I suppose that’s why I’m doing this. It’s some sort of masochistic brain training regimen, a self-imposed blogger’s boot camp. So stick with me if, for the first half of these thirty days, I produce some pretty rough material.

While I still have ideas from yesterday’s entry rattling around in my head, I might as well get it out. Also, beware. I’m gonna spoil the crap out of some movies.

One of the things that makes sci-fi so interesting is that it is a mirror into our collective fears. For example, a long time ago, before we could reach out and touch our own solar system, science fiction was earthly. What scared us most was what we didn’t know about ourselves. Frankenstein praised the revolutions in medicine and science, but asked how far they would take us and what kind of monsters awaited discovery or creation. Similarly, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, published the same year (1886) Sigmund Freud set up his private practice, explored the darker sides of the human psyche. And it wasn’t for nothing that people were a little freaked out by the monsters within. During the late 1800s, H.H. Holmes used Chicago as his personal charcuterie. And few years after Stevenson’s novel was published, at least five London prostitutes would end up dead, and their killer would be forever undiscovered.

Look, Ma! No calves!

A half century later (or so), the new fear was The Bomb. The world had watched in sublime horror as the Atomic Age crescendoed, and the fear of annihilation–of the apocalypse–became very real. Before, with trains and cars and airplanes, the four horsemen seemed a bit antiquated; humanity could do anything it set its mind to. Science and technology exploded, and then it imploded. Radiation was the savior and destroyer. In our imagination, ordinary men were transformed into superheroes by radioactive bug bites, but Godzilla punished us all the same for our arrogance. In the giant-bug movies of the 1950s and ’60s, radiation was almost always the culprit. The Amazing Colossal Man was transformed into a monster (without calves, apparently) by plutonium radiation. Sure, it’s funny enough now. MST3K did an episode for this movie. But it shows just how mixed our feelings were about this terrible new power we had unleashed. Like the monsters in our psyches, this new discovery could build a paradise or burn it all to the ground.

Right now, zombies as a movie monster are a tired thing. We’ve done them to death, and there’s kind of an unofficial moratorium on more zombies. But they are more of a cultural barometer than just about any other monster out there. When Romero put out Night of the Living Dead in 1968, it was radiation that brought the dead to life, but this time not necessarily from bombs. As our awareness of this new discover expanded, our vision lengthened, and our guilt increased. We had been to space and put our feet on the Moon, but in Romero’s vision, not even death would be an escape from the Pandora’s Box we had opened.

Ten years later, the threat of nuclear apocalypse was still there, but the Vietnam War was over, and Americans found themselves with a new set of problems, more domestic. I really want to argue that A Clockwork Orange (1971) fits in here somewhere, possibly with some sentiment of brainwashing and governmental or extra-governmental control over the body, but I feel like it might be a stretch. Still, it’s hard not to think about it as we move into the late ’70s. Dawn of the Dead (1978) is perhaps one of the best criticisms of consumer culture ever filmed. The radiation may still have turned people into zombies, but the zombie as an organism had mutated. Instead of being an aimless husk, a shell of human cynicism, the zombie now had a real, gluttonous hunger. It compulsively fed, not to sate itself, but to acquire more stuff because it was unable to appreciate what it had. The same argument could be made for Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). A Galactic Empire that practically owns most of the star systems out there uses its military might to acquire more and more. Because what good is owning most of the things when you can own them all? It’s like the Emperor thought planets were Pokemon.

And then, boom! Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Alien (1979), Mad Max (1979), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Insanity. And a good year at the movies, to be sure. More fear of governmental and corporate control, but also hope. As odd as it sounds, Mad Max is one of those movies that says, “Hey, yeah, we’ll probably get wiped out, either by our own hand or through some freak accident. But look: even if some of us begin to hunger for flesh and motorcycle-related violence, we will survive.” Eh, OK. Maybe that’s just me. But, seriously, a common theme that runs through all these movies is the question, “Who are we?” Just how much do we have to strip away before we stop being who we are or what others expect us to be? The crowning achievement of this exploration in the ’80s (in sci-fi, of course) is probably Blade Runner (1982). Harrison Ford is a cyborg. I think we all knew this, but just in case you didn’t I’ll write it again, because I love the way the words look on the page. Harrison Ford is a cyborg. In Blade Runner, very loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (which was published the same year Night of the Living Dead came out), a guy tracks down androids posing as humans and murders them because it’s his job. Trouble is, his girlfriend is on Santa’s naughty list. Oh yeah, and so is he. Because Harrison Ford is a cyborg. But we don’t find that out until super late in the movie. According to the best test humanity has to offer, neither he nor his girlfriend are distinguishable from anyone else. So what were they? Robots? People? At some point, it just doesn’t matter. It was a good thing to start thinking about toward the end of the Cold War, when our most hated enemies and partners in the apocalypse were about to become our friends again. It was also a groovy thing for our older siblings to think about while they got high and listened to Duran Duran.

Since the end of the Cold War, however, our worries have once again turned to the boundaries of science. Plagues, famines, overpopulation, and pharmaceutical regulation have been manifesting themselves in movies since the ’90s. Again, we can check our zombie barometer, and see it. 28 Days Later (2002), Dawn of the Dead (2004), World War Z (2013), and the ongoing TV show The Walking Dead all feature zombies as a plague and each individual zombie as a plague carrier. Zombies have also become faster. This doesn’t actually heighten the terror, however, just moves the movie along faster for audiences that have increasingly shorter attention spans. But this is our generation’s apocalypse. Forget the world ending in ice or fire. For the next few years, at least, it will end in a cough.

And the satisfying plink of an aluminum bat.

And the satisfying plink of an aluminum bat.

A Sci-Fi Primer

Today, Day 2 of my blog post marathon, let’s talk about science fiction! Actually, I’ll do the talking, so if you need a snack, or a beer or whatever, now’s the time.

More specifically, I want to talk about contemporary cinematic science fiction. I may include a reference or two to television, but I’m leaving written sci-fi out for two reasons. One, there’s a solid ton of it out there, and no practical way of covering it all. Two, I’m a slow reader; I’m just in the first few chapters of Asimov’s Foundation, and that was written in 1951. Of course, I’ll be talking about some older movies, possibly from the same era as Foundation, but nec pluribus impar.

Science Fiction vs. Science Fantasy

A few years ago, Red Letter Media’s Plinkett review of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009), they made a distinction that hadn’t occurred to me before. They posited that the major difference between the original Star Trek movies and Abrams’ reboot was a shift from science fiction to science fantasy. It had ceased to be Star Trek, they said, and had become “Space Adventure Film.” Why? I’ll let their video speak for itself, but suffice to say, that the more intricate and technical aspects of the previous Star Trek universe (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, etc), were replaced by a more freewheeling spirit, in which how something happens is less important than the fact that it does.

The old Trek was about explorers, Star Wars is about knights and wizards in space. But let’s not cling to the past. There are good analogues of both spirits out there today. Embodying the technical spirit, there are Upstream Color (2013) and Timecrimes (2007)–and probably Gravity (2013), though I haven’t seen it yet. And representing the freewheeling spirit, there are Monsters (2010) and Inception (2010)–probably also Ender’s Game (2013), but again, I haven’t seen it yet. We might understand science fiction, then, as science as fiction, and science fantasy as pretty much any story put in a setting that captures our scientific imagination.

Aren’t these distinctions meaningless, though? A little. To the genre, they’re two sides of the same coin, but as a matter of taste, it makes a big difference. As part of the sci-fi genre, The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2 (1991) are not only great movies, but are excellent examples of science fantasy. There is time travel–oh, yeah, and unfeeling killer cyborgs–but no one really cares how any of it works because it’s not particularly important to the plot. Terminator goes back in time, terminator terminates things, terminator gets terminated (fucker), and all the while, the story is of a battle against fate. It could have been told outside of the sci-fi genre, and has been. Ingmar Bergman rocked this story with The Seventh Seal (1957). It, of course, had 100% more chess playing and 100% fewer murderous cyborgs. Another, final example, is pretty much every Roger Corman sci-fi flick ever. Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) was pretty much Seven Samurai in space and spandex.

On the flip side, there are movies like Primer (2004) that rely so heavily on the science aspect, that it becomes the story. The science of Primer, isn’t how they get time travel to work, but the logical–and by extension ethical–conundrums inherent in trying to rewrite the past. No one gives a damn about that in Terminator.

The difference between the two facets of sci-fi seems to be drawn from an adoption of content versus an adoption of affect. Neither is necessarily better, but science fantasy does tend to produce a greater volume of cinema, and thus a larger share of crap.

Quality Control

Currently, the best sci-fi, on both sides of the coin, isn’t coming out of the big Hollywood studios, with a few exceptions aside. Shane Carruth has made a name for himself as an independent director and producer of mind-bendy time travel movies (Upstream Color and Primer). Monsters, the underrated and overlooked 2010 feature about two people sneaking through an alien-infested northern Mexico, was published by Vertigo Films, a British company with movies like Spring Breakers on its resumé. And Timecrimes (Los cronocrímenes) is, as it sounds, a Spanish production by Nacho Vigalondo, who also contributed to The ABCs of Death.

Of course, Hollywood still releases a quality sci-fi movie every once in a while, but recently, most of them seem to be sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes, and adaptations of preexisting works. One of the beautiful things about the genre is that it encourages us to stretch the limits of our imaginations and look toward what we could be. Sometimes these visions are utopian or dystopian (but at least they’re topian, right? Is this thing on?). Other times, there isn’t much difference at all. But most of all, sci-fi tells us who we are now. So what does it say about us that we’re rehashing old ideas instead of greenlighting quality stories? Whether we’re making science fiction or science fantasy, whether we’re stretching the laws of nature or just the bounds of believability, we need originality. We need to know who we are and what we’re becoming, not who we were.

30 Days of Blogging: Day 1

I am the Grand Moff Tarkin of blogging.

Increasingly, coming up with ideas for entries has become difficult to the point of distraction. Take my last post. I thought I had something there, but the more I thought about it, the more ideas slipped through my fingers. Rather than having a well-rounded idea about, say, relationships (although the connection might be too obvious), I had what amounted to a travel/food writing piece with no real message. Not that travel or food blogging is bad–it’s just not really me.

To combat my tendency to over-think ideas, and to just get them out there, I’m coming late to the 30-Day Blogging Challenge. In thirty days, I plan on having as many new blog entries, and in the event that I don’t produce, I have asked certain friends of mine to drag me out into the snow and beat me with a garden hose. Fortunately, I am still in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, I fear that posting unspeakable filth to my facebook wall is not beneath them.

Or perhaps that’s why I chose those particular people.

Anyway, I’ve built my own Death Star and now I have to live in it. That’s the metaphor, right?

I have some ideas squirreled away. (Fun Fact: “squirrel” is one of the few words I can, and maybe never will be able to spell correctly the first time.) Hopefully, I won’t have to use them all at once.

Until tomorrow, kiddies. And if you may, let’s have a moment of silence for a great Doctor (with a capital D), doctor (without), general, and detective.

Gone but not forgotten.

Gone but not forgotten.

The De-Cider

Ugh.

Now that we’re past the unpleasantness of that title, I’ll infotain you. Recently, I went to Taps Beer Bar for their first ever cider and food pairing event. It was a good evening for cider, too: rainy and relatively cool, but still warm enough that the imperial stout I had while waiting for the event to start seemed to catch in my throat. We would be having four ciders from three different breweries, and they would be paired with four dishes chosen by the MC.

Menu

 

So, without further ado…

Course 1

Wild Cider Pineapple MangoThe first course was a pineapple-and-mango-infused cider by Australia’s Wild Cider brewery, paired with a three-part salad of smoked salmon with a coconut-lime dressing, a roasted tomato in a tart shell with feta over a bed of caramelized onions, and a simple pear-and-greens salad. The roasted tomato tart was excellently prepared and was fun to eat. The smokiness of the tomato, saltiness of the cheese, and sweetness of the onions blended nicely. The salmon was much the same–salty, sweet, and smoky–and the lack of sensational differentiation made it seem a bit bland. The pear and greens were quite good, and light, and was a good pairing choice for the cider.

The cider itself was quite a bit sweeter than one might expect from a first course pairing. On its own, it is quite good. I mean, it’s pretty hard to screw up pineapple and mango. It was like drinking a less alcoholic mai tai–not exactly in the spirit of cider, but still tasty. Paired with the saltier items, which already had a sweet component added, the sweetness of the pineapple and mango seemed a bit redundant. Overall, however, this was a pretty good first course.

Course 2

Mountain Goat Two Step Apple Cider

Next was the Two Step Apple Cider by Australia’s Mountain Goat Beer. (Alright, so all of these breweries are Australian. You’re not really going to find many apples from Malaysia.) Paired with it was the seared quail on top of a salad of pears and greens and a peppercorn dressing. The quail itself was cooked well, and there wasn’t a whole lot to complain about as far as taste and execution were concerned.

For a second course, however, it felt disjointed, and the pairing was odd. The Two Step cider was good on its own. My companions complained that it barely had any taste and was closer to carbonated water than cider, but I found it to be light and subtly sweet when paired with the meat. The problem was that, instead of a real main course, we were given a second salad. A better pairing for this dish would have been the Gypsy Pear Cider. More about the specifics of the pear cider later, but the Two Step was far too light for a main course pairing, especially with a roasted meat. The pear cider, by contrast, was bold enough to carry the quail and light enough to avoid tainting the salad. The Two Step would have been better paired with the third course.

Course 3

Wild Cider Strawberry VanillaCourse three was another entry from Wild Cider, an extraordinarily sweet cider made with strawberries and vanilla. The MC warned us that it might taste overly sweet or medicinal, and he was not wrong. The sweetness was overpowering and felt almost syrupy at times. Paired with the pear and raspberry crumble, which was also tooth-achingly sweet, the cider was supposed to taste much more mild, or so we were told. In a sense, yes, compared to the crumble, it did seem somewhat more subdued, but it still made our teeth sing. I have tasted dessert wines, ports, sherries, cordials, schnapps, and had the poor taste to drink straight Pucker, and only the latter brings to mind the level of sweetness I found in this pairing.

Paired beverages should compliment the dish served, not necessarily turn it up to eleven. In this case, we had one extremely potent item with another, and the only thing they could do was build sweetness. The berry flavor of the crumble mixed with that of the cider to create a larger berry flavor, but one that was almost completely drowned out by the sugar. In the end, there was no complexity of texture or flavor, just overload. The better pairing, I feel, might have been with the Two Step. The lightness and dryness of that cider would have mellowed some of the crumble’s intense sweetness. There were apparently pears in that dessert, but the reduced berry juices were more like a syrup. If they could have been diluted by a lighter beverage, the taste of the pears may have come out.

Course 4

Gypsy Pear CiderThe last course. Wait. What? More dessert?! Far be it for me to complain, but this is why we needed a real main course. If I’m going to be treated to two sweet courses, I need something a little more substantial than two salads as a buffer.

Anyway, this course was the Gypsy Pear Cider from 2 Brothers Brewery, paired with Fete Artisan Pear Marshmallows. That’s right. Artisan marshmallows. My companions poo-pooed the marshmallows for the most part, but I thought they were actually quite good–and most importantly, they actually tasted like pear. And when they were roasted over flames, they tasted like roasted pears. Mission accomplished. “Artisan,” though? Let’s talk artisan when they get one that tastes like scotch, la?

Fete Artisan Pear Marshmallow

A whole one next to a sad melted one.

(Brief aside: I have a video of our French companion telling a story about how in France they don’t “do” marshmallows, but instead wrap a wheel of camembert in foil and throw it on the grill. I’m not including it, though, partially because I’m not ready to pay $10 a month to upload any occasional video I might have, and because I was kind of a dick to him about it–even though grilled cheese is delicious 100% of the time–and that part’s in the video, too. It’s my party and I can not upload self-incriminating video if I don’t want to.)

While I thought the marshmallows were pretty good, having them after the crumble was a bit much. One dessert, folks. One. Also, the pear cider pairing seemed a bit repetitive, like they were worried that the marshmallows might not taste enough like pear. Thinking of any of the other ciders I’d want to swap out for this one, though, I can’t decide without repeating.

Also, what was with the pears tonight?

Bonus Round: Beer!

Lager sir is regalIt’s a beer bar, so we stayed for beer. The bonus round is also when I stopped keeping track of most everything. I tried some lager, sipped some amber ale, and rambled on about something or another.

I do remember trying an excellent brew by Norway’s Nøgne Ø brewery. (I finally got to use a o-slash thingy in a sentence, and I got a twofer! And here it comes again!) Nøgne Ø’s Saison was excellent–light, a little fruity, and spiced well–and I highly recommend it as a summer brew, if you can find it.

Kitachino Red Rice AleThe last one of the night was an interesting specimen from Japan. Hitachino Nest‘s Red Rice Ale not only was a refreshing take on an Irish red, but also has a kick-ass label. I mean, look at it. It’s fantastic. The beer itself is, as its name implies, made with red rice, and so has a distinctly rice-y flavor, but not one that overwhelms the palate. If I could find a place to buy this in bulk, I’d be a happy camper.

For New Englanders in Malaysia, I did see a sign for Magic Hat, so if you’re homesick, you now know where you can grab a #9. Just don’t put any cigarettes out on anyone. That’s not OK here.

Getting Sauced in Southeast Asia

Before we left the beer haven that is New England, I distinctly remember proclaiming things like, “This’ll be a great chance to exercise more and cut down on our drinking.” We may have also said things like, “It’ll be easier, too, since it’ll be harder to get booze in a muslim country.” I believe we may have also added that because of the heat and humidity, drinking any sort of alcoholic beverage would be generally unpleasant. Well, I have started exercising more, but everything else was just lies to make us feel better–like things were actually going to be different. If I’m going to start with the bad news first, I might as well start working my way back up that list of proclamations.

Too Hot, Too Humid

This was the one I really thought would work. Living next to the jungle, it’s constantly hot and sticky to the point that clothes will molecularly bond to your skin. It’s hard to do a sexy striptease when you have to dig around in the kitchen for the meat scissors. It’s even harder to contemplate filling one’s body with anything but water. Combining oppressive humidity with something that reduces stamina and coordination would seem to result in a mouthful of concrete somewhere alongside a half-paved road.

What we didn’t really count on was the prevalence of air conditioning. Almost anywhere there are people, there is A/C. Malls have it. Buses have it. New houses are practically required to have it built in. I’ve even seen units attached to shacks built out of plywood and corrugated tin. It is easy to find a cool place to sit here, and when you can, hey! Why not have a drink?

Eventually, though, your body adapts to the environment, and suddenly, sitting at an outdoor restaurant on a congested road with exhaust fumes, body heat and steam from cooking prawns swirling around you doesn’t seem so bad, especially when there is an ice-cold glass of beer gathering condensation into an ever widening pool on the table in front of you.

It’ll Be Harder (Because It’s a Muslim Country)

I came here with the “das ist verboten!” jitters about a lot of things. But like pork, it’s more expensive, maybe, we don’t have access to the same quality and selection we had in Boston, and you can’t get it at every store, but unless you’re a muslim, it’s pretty easy to get. The only inkling of taboo I get from booze purchases is the weird stares we get from the cashiers when hauling a flat of beer onto the counter and then stacking wine bottles on top of it. But you get used to them. They’re the same stares I get just being a white westerner. People will stop what they’re doing and stare at me as if I have a giant lizard tale sprouting from my butt. Not everybody, but enough to notice. One of these days, I’m going to turn and go, “Boo!” One of these days.

Kuala Lumpur is a mix of people from all over the world. Even though the majority (and state-sponsored) religion is Islam, the populace is filled out not only by ethnic Malays, but by Chinese, Indians, and Tamils, not to forget the people from all over East Asia, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and others–though not a heck of a lot of Jews, it seems–abound, and they like to drink. But what?

Let’s take a look.

Tiger Beer

Tiger Beer Phuket Thailand 03
Surprise! This is one of the local brews. Granted, it’s based in Singapore, but it’s the local pride and joy here. Equivalent to Budweiser or Miller in the USA, Tiger Beer is Malaysia’s answer to the age-old question, “What mystical potion will allow me to yell incoherently from the balcony?” In the supermarket, you can typically find it alongside its foreign counterparts: Carlsberg, Heineken, Tsingtao, Asahi and Guinness. A flat of 24 cans runs about 112RM, which is about $30US. Not cheap, but it is the less expensive of the options. People keep telling me that they “know a Chinese guy down in Melawati” who sells flats for 100RM, as long as you pay cash. We’ll see about that.

As it turns out, the cultural and religious restrictions on this kind of thing here are somewhat overstated. We have a sign in our apartment building that says no pets are to be housed in apartments (legally, you have to have a house or some other landed property to house a dog or cat), but dogs and cats are everywhere. Likewise, there is a sign in the alcohol section of supermarkets that says muslims and people under 18 are not permitted. Much like the warning about pets, the sign often appears to be a formality.

Wine

Fat Bird!

Fat Bird! Our Kiwi neighbors turned us on to this, and now we throw as many bottles as we can into our cart whenever we see it in stock. Apparently, it’s also a local favorite and tends to disappear quickly. It’s ever-so-slightly sweet, semi-dry, and not too alcoholic tasting. A bottle here goes for between 30 and 40RM (roughly $10US), and is of somewhat higher quality than one might expect for its price range.

White wine tends to keep better here, since it is typically refrigerated. If you get a red wine, you need to either drink the whole bottle the night you get it, or you need to have a cool, dry place to store it. Needless to say, that can be hard to do here.

Vodka

Smirnoff Vodka 375ml bottle (standing up)

It’s vodka. I can make a pretty wicked Bloody Mary and like to show off with some cocktails occasionally, but generally have little desire for it otherwise. A 1-liter bottle goes for about 100RM, maybe less. It’s about what you’d expect.

Sake

Mio

Those who know me, know that there’s a special place in my heart and stomach for sake. KL has some pretty good choices when your cravings involve raw fish and fermented rice. During a recent outing to sate one such craving, I came across a new favorite: Mio (pictured above). It’s a sparkling sake, which sounds odd, but it has a light, fruity flavor that, combined with the underlying riciness, really compliments the saltiness of seafood. As a goof, I even had it served hot, and it was still quite good. In a restaurant, I went through two bottles at about 30RM each (a little more than $10US), but the way alcohol is sold here, I’m guessing that it would be roughly the same in a store.

Now if I could just find a store that sells sake….

Makgeolli/Makkolli

Makgeolli

Makgeolli/Makkolli (like Gaddaffi/Qadaffi) is a Korean rice beverage. Some advertise it as rice wine, but ZenKimchi argues that it is more of a rice beer. Think of Sam Adams, but rice instead of barley and hops. In terms of strength, Makgeolli is actually closer to beer than wine, anyway. It has a unique taste and is slightly effervescent , but is somewhat reminiscent of weak sake. If you added cinnamon and other spices to it, you might have an alcoholic horchata.

It is also apparently traditionally served in a bowl with a ladle.

Like so.

The scariest part of the drink is that, like soju, it is very often sold in plastic bottles. For westerners as far as alcohol is concerned, this is typically a sign of extremely low quality, but in this case, it’s just the preferred vessel for transport, since you’ll likely be pouring it into a big fancy bowl, anyway.

Of course, those are not nearly all the options available to someone looking to catch a buzz in Southeast Asia. I have a bottle of Laphroaig burning a hole on its shelf in my pantry as I write this. An then, this coming weekend, there’s a cider festival at a bar in KL proper. And who says autumn doesn’t exist here?