Holiday Break

Hi dear readers,

Sorry for not posting these few days. It’s the holidays and this blog is on a break till the new year. In the mean time, have a blast and enjoy yourselves wherever you are!

Wai San xx

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September in Komodo: The Critters

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Komodo surprised me by throwing up plenty of critters. There were plenty of nudibranchs, as usual, eggs included.

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Some of them I still can’t identify though I see them occasionally.

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Others, I think I know the names, like this spanish dancer (I think).

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And then there are the ones that I’d seen for the first time in Komodo, and had no idea what they were.

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There were some that were plain bulbous and gross. If anything can tell me what this is, I’ll be quite grateful. I think this is more of a sea snail of sorts because I think our guides said something about the shell being on the inside and the soft stuff outside.

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There were also much prettier ones with delicate tendrils.

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Then there were the crustaceans that lived in the delicate tendrils of corals, like this coral crab.

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Others, like the orang utan crab, lived on cabbage coral.

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And there were the hard to find whip coral shrimp, which was a beast to photograph. I remember this little critter took me 10 minutes and a good 20 bar of air to get a not-great photo.

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And the highlight of the critters was Oscar the smashing mantis shrimp. This fella lived in a hole and whenever we’d visit, our guide would knock at the entrance of his hole. Before long, two little fish would rise out of the hole, smartly realising that the safest place would be in the cosy hole where Oscar couldn’t extend his smashing pincers.

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Check out how Oscar would come out and peer at the outside world.

September in Komodo: Cute Little Fellas

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Despite the currents at Komodo, I managed to catch some pictures of cute little critters that are pretty shy and hard to photograph. One of them is this little blenny with its somewhat unsuccessful attempt at pretending to be a shadow in some bright orange coral. It darted about, emerging cautiously from various crevices in the coral when it thought the coast was clear.

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Its squat, square face reminded me a lot of a particular cartoon character and I christened it the Homer Simpson fish.

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Another really hard one to spot let alone photograph was the juvenile bicolour parrotfish.

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This little guy was tiny and incredibly hard to get close to.

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Luckily, I managed to spot two at separate occasions and caught a fairly decent shot of this fella’s orange half-mask.

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One thing that surprised me about Komodo was that there were mandarin fish in their true habitat. In most places like Lembeh and Malapascua, mandarin fish are generally found in areas with broken coral. If you think about it, in its most pristine conditions, no fish would live in broken coral as its most  favoured habitat. I suspect the coral could have ended up broken from all the masses of divers swooping in trying to get a good shot.

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Here, the little fellas were out in broad daylight and not in the evening as is typically the case elsewhere. While they were pretty shy, it wasn’t as difficult to get a good shot through the staghorn coral in bright daylight.

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Another amazing thing that I caught was a yellow-barred jawfish out of its hole. Typically, these fellas have their heads protruding from their holes at best. This one came right out in search of prey, and right in front of my lens at that!

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Last of the cuties was this dragonet that I’ve not seen anywhere else. I suspect it’s the Morrison’s dragonet but can’t be sure.

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While trying to photograph the adult, I noticed a juvenile in the same area and to my delight, this photo turned out fairly in focus. I found its bulbous starlight mint eyes and tiny sharp mouth enchanting.

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September in Komodo: Getting Closer to the Coral

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I really enjoyed how varied the diving was in Komodo. There were plenty of drift dives, wall dives, and sometimes just plain vanilla let’s-poke-around-the-reef dives.

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I dived with Reefseekers and the guides were the loveliest and most professional I’ve met. In addition to their impeccable briefings and safety procedures, I liked how they shared their love for the ocean at a daily storytelling session. Each day there was a different topic, perhaps on rays, or on cephalopods or, in one case, on day and night colours of fish. I never really noticed till diving in Komodo that fish have day and night colours. Not only that, but they change to night colours in the day time to signal to the cleaner fish that they want to be cleaned. Below we have a few surgeonfish changed into their darker night colours, and this in very stark contrast to a much lighter brother who was already being cleaned.

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There were plenty of other fish hanging around the reef, like this startled looking soldierfish…

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… and this predatory giant moray eel.

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There were also plenty of hawkfish, and I had fun catching pictures of the threadfin hawkfish…

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… the freckled hawkfish…

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… more freckled hawkfish…

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… and the rare longnose hawkfish.

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Others in the reef were very hard to spot. Look carefully and see if you can spot a scorpionfish.

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Others away from the coral were the garden eels, poking their heads out from the sand only when divers were further away. It was impossible to get a closeup shot.

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September in Komodo: Blue, Blue Oceans

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I flew to Flores from Bali, landing at Labuan Bajo, the staging point for Komodo. Komodo itself is a small island off Flores and is home to the famous Komodo dragon. I wasn’t here just to see the dragons, but also to experience the famed diving in the area. Diving here is challenging with the strong currents but very rewarding as it is very much an untouched area with an incredible amount of fish.

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Every dive I had was so blue and full of fish. There were trevally in great abundance and in greater abundance were the fusiliers and other smaller fish that made their prey.

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It was always a fish soup experience each dive.

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Famous here are the pelagics, otherwise known as big fish that swim in the blue, like the ominous looking giant trevally.

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They get pretty big, though not quite as big as a diver!

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It was almost shocking to me how often we saw Napolean wrasse. These are rare in other waters but seeing two or three in one dive was almost the norm here.

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They weren’t too shy and often swam round us in large circles, as if to mark out territory.

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Some of them were not yet in the terminal phase and had lighter markings on their smaller bodies. It was wonderful to see these majestic creatures cruise round us.

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Other creatures were more fearsome than majestic, like the dogtooth tuna. From afar they looked fine…

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… but up closer their rows of teeth and rather unfriendly expression made me think of how eagerly they would take revenge on me – all for my penchant for tuna sashimi.

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There were some slightly dangerous fish in the water. Here’s probably the most dangerous – the titan triggerfish. It’s been known to attack divers and to grave consequence. Thankfully it wasn’t nesting season when they tended to be very aggressive and territorial. This one just cruised past without taking any notice of us.

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Even though they have a reputation for being deadly, sharks are generally pretty harmless. There were lots of white tip sharks in the area. It is obvious how they got their name and it’s marvellous how the white tips are almost luminous in the water.

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These creatures were quite shy and it wasn’t easy to get a photo. It doesn’t help that they tend to be quite small, generally being about one to two metres long.

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Some of them came in right onto the reef but quickly shied away from the avid photographers.

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The closest we got was when there was a white tip shark hiding in a cave, oblivious to the fact that its tail was sticking out for all to admire.

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A Quick Meal of Xi’an-Inspired Lamb

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I was dreaming of Xi’an lamb skewers but didn’t have the time to find a better alternative to the version at Yang Gui Fei. My take is very much a fusion version of this and is far from the original. Plus, it being nigh impossible to buy good-tasting, deep-flavoured lamb here, I had to stick with the usual supermarket New Zealand lamb. It was passable but not the same. Make sure that you buy a fattier piece of lamb, the fat here is essential, otherwise you won’t get succulent yet charred bits. While this is hardly gourmet food, the beauty of it is that it’s incredibly fast. If you time it right, you could get dinner in 15 minutes.

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Ingredients:
200g lamb leg
1 tbsp cumin powder
1 chilli, chopped
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
4 mushrooms, sliced

¼ cup couscous
¼ cup water
1 tsp vegetable stock powder

Method:

  1. Preheat the grill to the highest setting.
  2. Slice the lamb thinly, being careful that each slice gets a fair share of fat.
  3. Mix the lamb and spices together, toss carefully and grill together with the mushrooms (or whatever other vegetable you like) till just about charred on each side, about 5 minutes each.
  4. In the mean time, measure out the couscous, pour in the water and mix in the stock powder. Microwave for 3 minutes and cover for another 3 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  5. To serve, pour the lamb and juices over the couscous and serve with side vegetables.

Serves 1, with leftover meat.

136 Hong Kong Street Fishhead Steamboat

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One night I had a dinner at a new place recommended by my aunt. We had a boisterous family gathering round an eponymous fishhead steamboat. It was chockful of chunky grouper fishhead in a rich, flavourful stock, all augmented by plenty of fresh vegetables and yam. The yam practically melted in the mouth after spending a while in the soup. It was a great dish for sharing in a group.

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To accompany the steamboat were deep-fried pork spareribs that were fairly decent. It was blown out of the water by the next dish.

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I spied this dish at another table and insisted that we order a portion of it: prawn sang meen. The  crispy noodles bathed in thick yet not too gloopy sauce was simply heaven. I don’t recall anywhere else that does the noodles so thin and crisp and plain yummy! The juicy big prawns with plenty of orange milt helped a lot too. I’m still dreaming of this dish.

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Not satisfied by just one serving of crispy noodles, my cousin insisted on another one, this time fish. I don’t know how we could be relatives but this cousin doesn’t even like prawns, hence this version. It had the same to-die-for crispy noodles and yummy sauce, but I felt that the prawn version was far better.

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136 Hong Kong Street Fishhead Steamboat
291 South Bridge Road
Tel: 8288 3368