September in Bali: Nusa Lembongan

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Just off the southeast of Bali is a little island called Nusa Penida and off Nusa Penida is the even littler island of Nusa Lembongan. This littler island was my next stop. It was an idyllic little place blessed with lots of sunshine and blue, blue sea while I was there.

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Every morning we’d go out diving and the water was always clear and blue, as was invariably the sky.

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We dived mainly along the sheltered west-facing side of Nusa Penida, which meant that most times upon surfacing, the majestic Gunung Agung rose from the horizon. It was lovely to see this familiar site accompany me on my Bali sojourn.

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Sometimes on coming back from diving, we passed surfers catching the waves. I made friends with an Australian couple there. The wife dived most days while the husband surfed.

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It was very relaxed diving compared to Tulamben. We did two dives a day compared to the hectic four previously. It gave me time to chill out on the beach, watching the occasional parasurfer go by.

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There were lots of pretty villas along the main stretch, hugging the hill round its curves.

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I stayed at Pondok Baruna, almost at the far end. It set in a beautiful traditional Balinese garden, a perfect place to unwind after a hard day’s dive.

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From here I could observe the goings on at sundown, the locals taking in their boats…

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… and the sun starting to send streaks of orange-pink across the sky.

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Every evening there was a spectacular sunset…

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… where the flaming ball of fire reflected itself on the calm sea…

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… and finally extinguished itself in the water.

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August in China: Guilin City

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Tortoise had flown into Guilin with me. She’d have her weekend getaway after which I’d part ways with her and head northwest.

Guilin is one of those places whose name alone evokes so many romantic images of beautiful shan shui (literally: water and mountain) landscapes. Even those who’ve not been to Guilin before wax lyrical about the beauty of the place. However, the city itself is a bit of a letdown as there’s no escape from the grey monoliths of commerce. Granted, it’s prettier than the average second tier city in China, with tree-lined avenues and parks dotting the city. Aside from the few parks, there’s not much else to Guilin city.

One such park is the famous Xiang Bi Shan (literally: elephant trunk hill). One of the bizarre rock formations looks exactly like the side profile of an elephant half-immersed in the water. Tortoise and I weren’t too keen on paying the ridiculous entrance fees just to see a lump of rock. If memory serves me right, it cost ¥60 here.

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The park designers were devilishly smart in planning this place. We managed to spy the rock formation through the gate and past lush trees and shrubbery. We could just about see it with the naked eye, but it was impossible to snap a picture from the outside at all. We gave up and sat at the outside, instead snapping a picture of this tiny elephant holding up the concrete railing.

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A minor attraction in the area are the Sun and Moon Pavilions (ri yue ta). They’re prettily set in a lake and the reflection from the recent rain made it rather pretty.

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Tortoise and I sat at the park for a while just observing the numerous domestic tour groups passing through the area. There was an elevated platform in front of the pavilions on which groups like to pose for pictures. Here’s one of a group from Hainan University.

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And here’s another of a family with two very bouncy and thoroughly spoilt little girls. We were fascinated by new dynamics in family structure. The function of the adults were just to dispense money and attention. The kids seemed to run the show and had every whim met. They were also experts in acting cute. Check out the heart pose in the picture below.

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After dinner, we passed by the pavilions again. I think it’s a lot prettier in the dark. No prizes for guessing which pavilion is which!

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Wagyu Promotion at Sun Restaurant

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Any branch of Sun Restaurant used to be my favourite place for a casual Japanese lunch. Little by little, they did small things that irked me. First, they removed from the menu my favourite lunch set of chopped medium-fatty tuna over rice (all branches), meaning a side order of maguro sushi if I had to have my tuna fix. Next, their sashimi quality went down (Central branch). It was stale like the stuff you get at the lesser kaiten chains. Last and probably least since it’s just a matter of indifferent service, I went to the Central branch for lunch on my birthday and produced a birthday discount voucher. They asked for my identity card as proof but did not breathe a word of happy birthday or even give a smile when they presented me with the bill.

Even though Sun Restaurant isn’t a favourite anymore, I thought I’d return to use up a $10 voucher. Good timing because they were having a wagyu beef promotion. My mum chose the Wagyu Sukiyaki & Tomato Salad and I went for the Wagyu Amiyaki Don & Age Tofu. There was also Hamburger Steak & Green Salad, boasting a Wagyu Score of 9+. Avoided that because I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just drop the expensive wagyu and add a bit more beef fat into the mincer to make the hamburger.

My Wagyu Amiyaki Don & Age Tofu was good. It consisted of grilled wagyu pieces and a “soft-boiled” egg on rice, with a side of deep-fried tofu. The wagyu was excellent: it tasted of charred teriyaki-esque marinade on the outside and oozed decadent wagyu goodness on first bite. It went well with the preserved ginger and seaweed topping. The perfectly-done poached egg was a soft, comforting counterpoint to the well-seasoned beef, a successful pairing. I liked the deep-fried tofu side even though the tofu tasted more like local tau kwa to me. The deeply savoury dashi sauce further balanced the sweet barbecue marinade of the beef and the boiled vegetable topping was crisp and refreshing.

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The sukiyaki looked pretty appetising. Only a dollar more than the regular beef sukiyaki set in the menu, it had the same generous amount of beef slices. The wagyu worked well with the dish because one of the main problems I have with regular sukiyaki is that the beef gets too done. With wagyu you want it to be well-cooked so the fat melts unctuously in your mouth. It sure did with this dish. The only problem was that the sukiyaki sauce was a lot sweeter than normal. It was so sweet that it changed the taste of the salad and pickles, marring the meal. We had to down copious cups of tea to cleanse our palates in between.

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When I brought this up with the server, she obligingly checked with the chef. The message was that the sauce was normal and at the correct sweetness. The server was apologetic about it and suggested that we order it less sweet for our next visit. She also sent us a free scoop of macha ice cream with azuki sauce. That was lovely of her, an  unexpected and extra-nice finish to our meal. That makes the Chijmes branch my almost-favourite place for Japanese lunch.

After a $10 discount from a Citibank voucher, we paid $36.60 for two set lunches that came with fruit and coffee/tea.

Japanese Dining Sun@ Chijmes
30 Victoria Street #02-01 Chijmes
Tel: 6336 3166